The tragic death of Weize Xi, a 21 year old student who was diagnosed with terminal soft tissue cancer, has been widely circulated on Chinese media. After his diagnosis with Sarcoma, his family found an experimental immunotherapy treatment at a Beijing hospital run by the armed police force via a Baidu search. A few days before he died, Wei accused Baidu of ranking medical information search results by the amount paid by advertisers, denouncing it as "evil".
Wei’s accusation has sparked heated outcry against Baidu following his tragic death. “Baidu’s unscrupulous activities were driven by profits”, write one angry blogger, “Baidu's lucrative online marketing business is distasteful and killed Mr. Xi!”, writes another. Amid mounting public anger, Chinese authorities intervened, announcing it has launched a joint investigation into Baidu with the country's health authorities and business regulators.
But such accusations that directly link Wei’s death with Baidu’s business practices seem quite unjustified. It is well known that Wei’s cancer was terminal, and in front of this vicious fatal disease, doctors’ don’t take about cure but only a few years of survival rate at the best. In the human war against cancer, setbacks are plenty and deaths are common, and all cancer patients should be realistic.
It is naïve for anyone to believe that humanity has found a magic cure for metastatic cancers. Despite advanced medical science and technology, a magic pill to eradicate all cancers – especially metastatic cancers— is not in existence, and some new technologies – including immunotherapy— is in its infancy and early stages of clinical trials.
That was why the unproven immunotherapy Wei believed in failed to provide him with the results he had expected. Before Wei accused that the hospital or Baidu had deceived him by painting him a fraudulent rosy picture, he shouldn’t have held his hopes too high in the first place.
Further, developing a cancer treatment plan is a highly-skilled job and can only be performed by oncologists. Abandoning chemo and seeking alternative treatment was a very risky move and the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Where were Wei’s oncologists? Did his doctors advise him of the risks associated with changing the treatment plan? Was he aware that by suddenly stopping chemotherapy, it was very likely that the cancer would come back more aggressively?
I am quite shocked at the way the Wei (or his family) so deeply relied on the internet for treatment directions, and were so easily persuaded by the marketing practices of a search engine without professional guidance – regardless how unscrupulous or predatory these practices were.
Before we make any serious accusations, we should get the facts straightened out. If Wei died much sooner resulting from his decision to switch treatments, then the negligence of Wei’s doctors, the fraudulent claim of the hospital, and chaotic Chinese medical system should bear the brunt of the blame, rather than a third party that did not directly get involved in Wei’s cancer treatment. If a search engine is responsible for every bad outcome of its users, then all the search engines would have been sued out of business altogether. Before the accusations and anger get escalated further, we all should calm down and face Wei’s tragedy in a realistic and rational way.
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