Hong Kong parents and concern groups welcome new policy marking ‘respect’ for miscarried fetuses instead of treating remains as clinical waste
Move announced in policy address may finally answer calls over controversial matter, but details need to be ironed out
Hongkonger Venus Lai, who suffered a miscarriage in her 21st week of pregnancy, was still reeling from the loss when she was rejected 30 times in her bid to bury her baby’s remains in a cemetery.
This was because her child, named Cheung Loi-kin, which translates from Cantonese into “see you again”, was under the 24-week gestation mark to qualify as a fetus. Instead, it was considered an abortus, to be disposed of as medical waste.
Lai lost her baby to a genetic disorder which was detected by doctors before the miscarriage.
The mother, who declined to reveal her full name, vowed to fight an uphill battle to get her son properly buried. After days spent wrangling with procedures at a public hospital, she accepted the only way allowed to reclaim the remains – by employing a pet cremation service.
On Wednesday, the government addressed the anguish of parents such as Lai, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced health care initiatives during her annual policy speech. In a new move, public hospitals would soon allow couples to claim a fetus under 24 weeks for burial or cremation.
There have been long-standing calls for authorities to abandon the current practice of sending unclaimed fetuses to landfills.
In the policy address, Lam also said she was looking into public facilities that can allow such burials, and urged private ones to follow suit. But she did not reveal more details on the arrangements.
According to sources, a few private cemeteries, including the Tao Fong Shan Christian Cemetery, Hong Kong Buddhist Cemetery and the Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Chai Wan have been in touch with officials to discuss the matter.
“This shows a sign of respect for mothers and life,” said May Tse Mei-yee, founder of Little Baby Concern Group, which helps women who have suffered miscarriages or those who have had to terminate their pregnancies for health reasons.
Tse, a former social worker and mother of a three-year-old daughter, has helped hundreds of grieving mothers. She said some of them suffered from insomnia and self-blame.
“Now, parents can finally have the closure they need,” Tse said.
Lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who has been assisting the concern group, said he would meet senior officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Hospital Authority next Wednesday to discuss the new arrangement.
“We hope the government will not just lower the 24-week mark,” he said. “What we’re asking is for all fetuses to be considered as human remains. Isn’t having a heartbeat already proof that it’s human?”
Tam also recommended the government provide a designated space to bury unclaimed fetuses collectively, separating them from medical waste as a sign of respect.
Venus Lai and her husband welcomed the changes, calling the current rules too rigid and inhuman.
“Having to fight for my child’s remains is the last thing I want to do, after already having to deal with the psychological and physical toll of losing a child,” Lai said, recalling how the struggle made it even harder for her body to recover from the miscarriage.
It has been about half a year since the ordeal. She now stores her son’s ashes in a cupboard at home.
“Like any parent, we want the best for our children. It’s unfortunate what happened but the least we could do is to allow him to rest in peace,” she said.
“I would rather keep his ashes at home than send him off to a landfill. I will keep him here for as long as I have to.”