Law review promised after Hong Kong couple’s agony over fetus labelled ‘medical waste’

City’s No 2 health official meets lawmaker to discuss case of parents unable to retrieve boy miscarried at 15 weeks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 9:01am

Hong Kong’s No 2 health official has promised to review a law that prevented a couple from retrieving a miscarried fetus a public hospital classified as “medical waste”, the Post has learnt.

Undersecretary for Food and Heath Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee gave the assurance during a meeting with Labour Party legislator Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who was contacted by the lawyers of parents Kevin and Angela, who lost their son at 15 weeks.

Bosses at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung prevented the couple from giving Wally a proper funeral because the baby fell short of 24 weeks, the time at which public hospitals begin treating the fetus as a life.

They were then told they could take Wally home on condition that they find a proper place to bury him. But Kevin and Angela, which are not their real names, were left in bureaucratic limbo as the hospital would not issue the necessary documents for cremation or burial in a public facility.

During the meeting Cheung said he asked Chan – tipped to be the next health minister – about the possibility of amending the law to help other parents in future.

“She said they could work towards that direction [of reviewing the law],” Cheung said, adding that Chan also gave advice specifically on Kevin and Angela’s case.

But with less than a month until this government’s term ends, she told him the task would inevitably be left to the next administration.

A spokesman from the health bureau said: “Professor Chan has updated the legislator on the follow-up actions taken by the government and the Hospital Authority.

“Professor Chan understands the concerns of the Hon Fernando Cheung and would explore if any improvement can be made to the way of handling such cases.”

But Cheung said specifics in terms of the kind of amendments needed were not touched on during the meeting.

‘Open wound that won’t heal’: a Hong Kong couple’s emotional fight against ‘clinical waste’ label on child in miscarriage

Under the Hospital Authority’s current practice, a fetus under 24 weeks would not be given documents for public cremation and burial because it was not considered to have been alive before then.

Cheung suggested the amendment would likely be a form of exemption on certain documents, rather than having anything to do with the 24-week mark.

Kevin and Angela have since contacted the Catholic Church, which runs private cemeteries in the city. The church has proposed to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department setting up an “Angel Garden” in its private cemetery in Chai Wan to allow a burial for the couple and other parents in future.

But Cheung said a wider change would be needed as the proposal would not cover non-Catholics or parents opting for cremation.

The changes, if implemented, would also benefit parents using private hospitals. Although they were more likely to be able to retrieve the fetus, private hospitals would not issue the required documents.

Dr Cheung Tak-hong of Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin – who chairs a central committee for public hospitals and says the 24-week mark should remain a medical definition – told the Post earlier it would make most sense for the government to change the law.