Taichung’s cancer gambling dens

Usually, when someone is terminally ill, friends and families are deeply distressed and mentally prepare themselves to accept the inevitable outcome of the disease.  At  least that’s what I’d imagine,  never having (thankfully) been put in that situation.  Sure, preparations are being made to take care of the person’s financial affairs and such, but these are side issues to the grief and sorrow that accompanies someone’s illness.

Well not really so in some parts of Taichung, Taiwan.  It seems the Asian penchant for gambling has extended into the morbid.  Reports of gambling dens that allow people to bet on how long terminally ill patients will survive have surfaced, and are currently being investigated by the police.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Subject (cancer patient) is put into play.
  2. Gamblers (including family members and doctors treating the patients) visit the patients before placing their bets.  Can you imagine while being sick and dealing with your imminent death, you have all sorts of strangers looking at you as a piece of meat?  Trying to figure out your expiration date?  Viewing your charts and health progress?
  3. The dens decide what odds to offer.
  4. Bets are accepted.  If the patient dies within one month of the betting, the house keeps the cash.
  5. Increasing payouts are paid for every day or week the patient survives beyond the month upto a maximum of 6 months.

After I puked in my garbage can due to overwhelming nausea, I read some more.

According to the Taipei Times minimum bets are 2 000 NT (around 66 US) ranging as high as 1 000 000 000 NT (34.5 million US).  The article goes on to add that, in Taichung, these dens are disguised as non profit organizations and are so numerous on one particular street, that it’s known as the “death gambling street”.  A report on odditycentral.com put the number as high at 60 on (I think) the same street.

Where do they find their subjects from, you ask?

Incredibly, familiy members of the sick themselves volunteer them to be subjects in this bizarre circus.  The dens offer a 10% (of the whole pot) “finders fee” if the patient survives for the initial month.  This is paid out whether the house wins or not.  Since the fee can end up being some serious cash, it’s difficult for poorer families to say no.

Further more, since the payout increases the longer the subject lives, some dens have offered bonuses to families who withhold life extending treatments.  This goes beyond the line of immoral – using someone’s desperate situation to “legally” cut short another’s life?

And as if all that isn’t sick enough, when questioned, a staff member said that all they are doing is helping poor families pay for funerals that they couldn’t afford.

After I was done puking, and recovered enough from my initial shock at this totally dehumanizing affair, I started feeling very sorry for the families that are faced with these kinds of decisions.  With a lot of rural families being so poor, they are forced to make choices that while, pragmatic (for their situation), undermine the basic laws of decency and respect for human beings.  Sadly, what the staff member said is true – poor families do need the help, and have to turn to these kind of horrible options to obtain it.


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