Hong Kong parents who have lost an unborn child must not suffer a miscarriage of justice as well
I read with concern about Venus Lai’s struggle to get approval to bury her fetus after a miscarriage (“Hong Kong parents and concern groups welcome new policy marking ‘respect’ for miscarried fetuses”, October 12). According to Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, to qualify as a fetus, it must reach the 24-week gestation mark. Fetuses aborted before that cut-off time are deemed non-human, and therefore to be disposed of as “medical waste” in landfills.
As a Thai who regularly visits Hong Kong, and appreciates its economic miracle, I find the case disturbing. I would like to make three points.
The first concerns the cut-off time for what constitutes a fetus. What detailed criteria do the authorities use? In some cultures and religions, the status of a human or living being is conferred at the moment of conception.
Should we define a fetus as human, and accord it with all its rights, at the stage when it can feel pain? In that case, the cut-off would be between 20 and 27 weeks. Or should the cut-off be when its heart starts beating, which is at around six to eight weeks? The cut-off point is fuzzy and controversial, requiring much consideration. The current cut-off time of 24 weeks means that mothers who miscarry in the 23rd week will see their fetuses disposed of among garbage, instead of being allowed a proper burial. That this is being reconsidered is welcome news.
My second point is that, regardless of how many weeks old the aborted or miscarried fetus may be, it belongs to the parents. It is the parents’ creation (in a consensual relationship). Emotional bonding and attachments exist. Parents therefore have the moral right – and should have the legal right – to retrieve the fetus for burial or cremation as they see fit.
Last and most important is the sanctity of life. Fetuses – irrespective of whether they can feel pain or have consciousness – aren’t leftover food waste or disposable items to be readily sent to the landfills. What message is the government sending to Hongkongers? That anything that does not constitute a “human” in its fullest form can be treated like garbage, destined for landfills? Taking this line of reasoning to its logical end would be no different from patients in vegetative states being put in landfills. For they too lack consciousness or self-awareness and may not feel pain.
This is fundamentally about respect for a mother and her miscarried fetus. It is about respect for life and for human beings, no matter what their economic value. It is about what values we want to instil in society. Give the parents the final say on how to say farewell to their unborn child.
Ms Lai suffered a miscarriage. Don’t let her and others like her suffer a miscarriage of justice.
Edward Kitlertsirivatana, Bangkok