American and German specialists saw imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on Saturday and confirmed that he is in the final stages of terminal liver cancer, the hospital treating him said.
China allowed the two doctors to travel to the northeastern city of Shenyang to see the country's most prominent political prisoner following international criticism of Beijing's handling of Liu's illness and calls for him to be treated abroad.
The First Hospital of China Medical University said in a statement on its website that the two foreign experts "fully affirmed" Liu's treatment plan so far, but that Liu's prognosis was grim.
"But the patient is suffering from advanced liver cancer that has metastasized to his entire body and is at the end stage," the hospital said. Liu has accumulated a large amount of abdominal fluid, the statement said, calling his condition "quite serious."
The hospital said the experts were Dr. Markus W. Buchler of Heidelberg University in Germany and Dr. Joseph Herman of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.
It was impossible to independently verify the hospital's description of Buchler's and Herman's views on Liu's illness. A source familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussions confirmed that the American and German experts had seen Liu and spoken to his family.
Shang Baojun, Liu's former lawyer and a close friend, said that during the consultation with the foreign experts, Liu was "clear-headed and communicated smoothly, and could even speak English."
"He again expressed a desire to go abroad for treatment, preferably in Germany, though the U.S. would also be fine, and his family members said the same," Shang told The Associated Press. "We sincerely hope this request will be approved."
The experts' visit comes as Liu's illness has taken a turn for the worse. Chinese doctors said Friday that they have stopped using cancer-fighting drugs so as not to overwhelm his severely weakened liver.
On Saturday, the hospital said that the doctors may review MRI scans and further assess Liu's liver function before deciding on whether to use radiation therapy, immunotherapy and other treatments.
"We will continue to provide nutritional support, pain relief and other forms of supportive care to improve the patient's quality of life as much as possible," the hospital's statement said.
In a sign of the seriousness of Liu's decline, his younger and older brothers and their wives were being allowed to see him, Shang said. At the hospital, Liu has been mostly accompanied by his wife and her brother, both of whom have been largely unreachable by the outside world due to restrictions by Chinese authorities.
Beijing activist Hu Jia, a family friend, said the relatives' visit was a sign that the authorities have acknowledged Liu's rapid deterioration.
"I think the authorities are in crisis mode. They too are not sure if Liu Xiaobo will pass away soon because his condition is quite obviously worsening," Hu said.
"They don't want to bear too great a responsibility in this respect," he said, referring to the act of allowing Liu to be with his brothers at a critical stage. "The authorities think by doing this they could at least be accountable to the outside world and say Liu was with his loved ones at the very end."
Liu's two brothers, who were traveling from their homes in southern and northeastern China, were being closely monitored by state security agents along the way — making it difficult to maintain contact with them, Hu said.
Beijing has come under criticism from Western governments for not fully releasing Liu, who was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May while serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion by advocating sweeping political reforms that would end one-party rule. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, the year after he was convicted and jailed by a Chinese court.
The office of the United Nations human rights chief on Friday also expressed concern about Liu's condition and noted that the Chinese government has provided no further information to the U.N. office for more than 24 hours.
Spokeswoman Liz Throssell said at a briefing in Geneva that the U.N. should be granted access to both Liu and his wife.
China's foreign ministry had no immediate response to a request for comment Saturday.