Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Death of a Migrant, Pregnant Woman

Ms. Liyun Li (李丽云), a migrant worker from Hunan Province, met her boyfriend Zhijun Xiao (肖志军) in Beijing and had dated him for three year. Like so many other young Chinese ladies, she went to Beijing in search of better paying jobs and a future. Unfortunately, her pursuit of happiness ended abruptly in November 2007, along with her short hopeful life and her unborn child.

She felt under the weather for two weeks in early November, and probably for lack of funds, she avoided expensive doctors in hospitals. Instead, she went a private clinic where she was treated for a common cold. But, her health deteriorated afterwards and her boyfriend had to send her to the Beijing Chaoyang District Hospital (West District), where doctors found her to be in a dire medical emergency—her heart was failing in addition to a host of other symptoms. In order to avert a disaster, she must undergo a C-section and other emergency care immediately.

She did not have a penny on her; nor did her boyfriend. But, the hospital staff offered to operate first on credit, which rarely happens in China.

Money was not the issue on that day when she died. It did not matter; what mattered, what would have mattered was her boyfriend’s signature on an agreement for the hospital to operate and do what it needed to do to save her and her baby’s life. Before any medical operation, the hospital had to have informed consent, by law, in the form of a signature from Ms. Liyun Li, her family member, or persons related to her. But her boyfriend, the only person who could have given the consent refused, repeatedly.

As the clock ticked on, her breath grew fainter; as hours vanished together with the precious heart beat of the baby in her womb, doctors, nurses, administrators begged for his signature. But he still wouldn’t do it. In stead of signing his signature on the consent form, he wrote: “I refuse the C-section, and I shall be responsible for all consequences.” With that, the emergency care staff, in despair, witnessed the death of Ms. Liyun Li and her unborn baby, in a span of about three hours.

That sums up the griping story of Ms. Liyun Li’s death in a Beijing hospital on November 21, 2007.

Bad things happen every day, everywhere; tragedies occur all the time in China, many of which go unreported. But, Ms. Li’s story is different—it bothered me and it still does. I cannot help but think about other possible outcome to her emergency visit to the hospital. What would have happened had her boyfriend just signed the damn consent form? What if there had been no legal requirement for the consent of a boyfriend under that kind of medical emergency? And what if the hospital took matters into its own hands and operated without his consent? And what might have been had her boyfriend simply been absent from the entire situation in the hospital?

Unpleasant as it might be, death often awakens social conscience and engenders action. Ms. Liyun Li’s death was no exception. Her death has sparked a flurry of debate in the medical and legal communities in China. They are asking the same “what if” questions; they want to know whom to hold responsible for the tragic loss of two lives, one of whom never had a chance to behold the wonders of the world. They want to avoid any repetition of such a gut-wrenching tragedy.

(Please check back later for the legal issues in and possible ramifications of this story.)