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Former President Chen Shui-bian’s medical care in question

11/03/2012

On 7th March, Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian, currently imprisoned, was taken to Taoyuan General Hospital for a medical check up and was found to have a heart condition. He underwent a procedure the following day to correct the problem. He was also found to have a prostate tumour but the doctors had yet to determine whether it was malignant.

It reads as if Chen was simply taken to the hospital. However, getting the authority to grant the permission had not been easy. Chen had been feeling unwell for a while but prison doctors had not reported the need for more sophisticated examinations in a hospital. Chen fell ill again on 2nd March. His wife visited him in prison and asked the Ministry of Justice to allow Chen to be properly examined in a hospital. The minister emphasised that Chen had been seen by prison doctors (seconded from Taoyuan General Hospital) three times before and that everything was normal but he would ask the prison to assess there was a need for a hospital visit.

On the following day, Frank Hsieh posted a message on Plurk:

According to news reports, A-bian had expressed his suspicion of having colon cancer. From the legal or the humane point of view, the authority must grant him a visit to the hospital for a thorough check up immediately and must not let any political consideration get in the way. If [Chen’s] life is endangered because of the delay, it is the same as murder and will certainly polarise the society further.

On 6th March, 12 DPP and 1 TSU legislators visited the Ministry of Justice and asked the Ministry to grant permission and make arrangements for Chen to have a check up immediately.

This makes me wonder:

Does it need 4 days or longer to make such a decision?

Does it take as much effort or as long for other prisoners?

If the answer was ‘no’ for the above two questions, why did it take 4 days and so much pressure for the ministry to act?

If the answer was ‘yes’ for the first two questions, what are prisoners’ human rights like in Taiwan at the moment?

After Chen was in hospital, it was found that he had been given Ativan (Lorazepam) for 14 months non-stop. Chen said that he had not been aware of the use and side effects of this drug but the hospital spokesperson, Dr. Wang, claimed that the doctor prescribed 1/8 of the normal dose so that the chance of having side effects was very low. Wang also emphasised that the doctor had inform Chen its effects. This discrepancy may be because the doctor did not explain clearly enough to Chen or given him the full information and did not make sure Chen understood. However, according to the UK NHS website,

Lorazepam is a medicine which is used to treat anxiety, excitement, mania and status epilepticus. Lorazepam is also used as a pre-operative medication. Lorazepam is used in these conditions due to its anxiolytic, sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant effects.

Lorazepam should only be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest time possible. This will minimise the chance of dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

It makes one wonder why it’s necessary to give someone such a drug for 14 months. I also wonder how many people would willingly take this medication without cause for 14 months  after reading the two sentences in bold, however low the dosage is.

Upon reading Chen’s medical record, his office question the safety (or quality) of the medical care Chen had received. For example, Chen was once given a medication for his heart symptom but the prescribed dose was at least three times higher than the normal one, which caused Chen extreme discomfort and a severe headache. I don’t know whether this could be life threatening or not. It was found to be prescribed by a physiotherapist rather than a qualified medical doctor. On another occasion, Chen was given eye drops containing steroids, which made his high eye pressure even higher. Do the above reflect simply poor standard of medical care for all prisoners? Or is there something personal?

Chen’s son said that Chen was confined in a very small space (approx. 4 sq meters, including a toilet, a washing area and storage space) for the majority of the day and allowed outdoors 30 minutes only. A TSU legislator added on the Talking Show that there was no bed and Chen had to sleep on concrete floor like everyone else and the space was so small that Chen could not stretch/straighten his legs while he slept. As most people can tell, Chen is not tall and if he can’t stretch his legs, that must be awfully small.

As soon as Chen got to the hospital, the blue camp accused the ministry of giving Chen preferentially treatment1. A KMT legislator, Liao, asked the authority to treat Chen just like any other prisoner. Another KMT legislator, Wu Yu-sheng, told Chen’s family not to have the cake and eat it. However, some green supporters point out that when the former head of KMT secret service was jailed because he ordered the murder/assassination of the writer Liu Yi-liang, he was given a flat with space at the front, just like a home, and he was allowed to take a walk in that space whenever he liked. The two assassins also received special treatment in prison.

It’s not relevant to Chen’s health but I’d mention another irony here. In 2009, Wu Yu-sheng was caught having an affair, cheating on his wife, and the BMW-X5 he used to take the woman was leased by him and paid for by unspent political donations. I don’t want to comment on his affair but thought it might be important to know if the fund has covered his other personal luxury or been used inappropriately in any other way. However, as far as I remember, no mainstream (or blue friendly) media showed much interest in probing his handling of political donations further and Wu got re-elected in the 2012 legislative election.

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