TAIPEI - When assuming office, the president of the Republic of China takes the following oath:
"I do solemnly and sincerely swear before the people of the whole country that I will observe the Constitution, faithfully perform my duties, promote the welfare of the people, safeguard the security of the State, and will in no way betray the people's trust. Should I break my oath, I shall be willing to submit myself to severe punishment by the State."
Having twice taken this oath himself, former President Chen Shui-bian is in part fulfilling his promise to accept the "severe punishment by the State" for failing the people's trust as he is serving a 19-year sentence for accepting bribes. Presidents who are convicted of any crime should not be given preferential treatment, if anything they should be punished to the full extent of the law as they promised to accept. The extraordinary power of the R.O.C. presidency makes this promise an important deterrence to prevent presidents from abusing their office.
So where the decision of medical parole is concerned, Chen should not receive any extra consideration due to his status.
That said, "severe punishment by the State" does not mean punishment beyond the description of the law. Article 58 of the Prison Act stipulates that "if an inmate suffering from diseases could not receive appropriate treatment in prison, it may be taken into account to release him on bail for medical treatment, to transfer him to specific prisons or hospitals with permission of supervisory authority." It is equally important that Chen not be barred from rightful medical parole merely because of who he is.
Taichung Prison is considering opinions from a team of medical experts on whether Chen requires medical parole. Local media reported that the prison might make its decision soon; some speculated that Chen can be released before New Year's Eve. Chen was earlier diagnosed by similar medial teams with various complications, including severe depression, sleep apnea, non-typical Parkinson's disease, a speech disorder and mild cerebral atrophy. The current 15-person-strong team is formed of experts nominated by both the government and Chen's family.
The prison should consider the medical team's recommendation and make appropriate decisions based only on Chen's medical condition. If the ex-president requires treatment that can only be given at home, then he should be granted bail. If the relevant treatments can be given in Taichung Prison, a different facility or a hospital, arrangements should be made accordingly.
It is inevitable that the decision of whether to grant parole to a controversial former president will seen as more than a legal and medical matter. It is important, however, to handle Chen's case in a professional manner and as apolitical as possible. Political pundits have suggested that the renewed momentum in Chen's medical parole campaign is related more to the Kuomintang's recent local election defeat than to any new development in Chen's condition. If the decision to release Chen or to deny him parole is seen merely as a political decision, then Taiwan's legal system and democracy will be reduced to a sideshow to politics. Instead of a reminder of the consequences for abusing power, the former president's story will only encourage politicians to hold on to power, as it (not the rule of law) is the "decider" of things.