Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority has backtracked on its refusal to hand the body of a miscarried 16-week-old foetus to his mother, but the couple is waiting for the Catholic diocese to revise its rules in order to bury him.
Since April, Princess Margaret Hospital has been refusing to hand the body to the couple – who use the pseudonyms Kevin and Angela – since foetuses under 24 weeks are treated as “clinical waste.” However, the hospital told them this week that they could collect the foetus for burial.
Earlier, the couple had been unable to find any cemetery or crematorium to take the body, because the 16-week-old foetus cannot be provided with the hospital’s certificate of stillbirth, or Form 13 – issued for miscarriages after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The Hospital Authority told HKFP that the 24-week lower limit is based on a consensus from Hong Kong’s medical profession, but the couple’s lawyer Michael Vidler believes it was set arbitrarily.
There is no provision in the Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance stating that Form 13 can only be granted for stillborns older than 24 weeks, while hospitals have also traditionally released foetuses from early miscarriages to Muslim families.
With the Hospital Authority’s fresh approval, Kevin told HKFP that he and Angela were hoping to bury the foetus – known as Wally – at a Catholic cemetery on Thursday. He added that they were in contact with Vicar General Dominic Chan about this.
However, they were told that the Catholic Diocese required further approval from the Hong Kong government before the burial could take place.
In response to HKFP’s enquiries, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese attributed the delay to a need to change the Rules of the Catholic Cemeteries, and submit the changed rules to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
“The current set of [rules] does not provide the Diocesan Board of Catholic Cemeteries with the authority to accede to requests for burial of a still-born child under 24 weeks old,” said the spokesperson.
“The Board must revise the set of rules and submit the revised set to the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene before an urgent approval for burial of the still-born child could be granted.”
“We hope to fast-track the process so that the current case and similar cases in the future can be resolved.”
The spokesperson has not yet identified to HKFP the specific provisions in the Rules of the Catholic Cemeteries that need to be revised.
The foetus is currently still at Princess Margaret Hospital. Kevin says that the couple are exhausted, but he is optimistic that the Church is working hard to find a solution.
Lawyer Vidler earlier suggested that the government should either remove the restriction on issuing Form 13 for stillborn foetuses younger than 24 weeks, or introduce a new form altogether – so that future couples do not have to go through the same process.