is a question by the Professor Hon Joseph Lee and a written
reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in
the Legislative Council today (June 28):
Earlier, a woman who had a miscarriage before 24 weeks of
pregnancy sought my assistance, saying that only after a lot
of twists and turns was she allowed to collect the stillbirth
from the public hospital concerned.
Moreover, as the hospital had refused to issue the
Certificate of Stillbirth (the Certificate), she was unable to
arrange for cremation and burial of the stillbirth.
She was infuriated by the hospital's suggestion that
she arrange for cremation of the stillbirth as a pet.
It is learnt that the Hospital Authority (HA) currently
treats stillbirths of less than 24 weeks as clinical waste and
will not issue the Certificate for such stillbirths.
In this connection, will the Government inform this
Council if it knows:
(1) the number of
cases of miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy throughout
the territory in the past five years; among such cases, the
number of those in which the parents of the stillbirths were
allowed to collect the stillbirths, and the burial
arrangements for the stillbirths collected;
(2) the justification
for HA's decision to treat stillbirths of less than 24 weeks
as clinical waste; whether the authorities will review the
relevant arrangement to make it more respectful of the
feelings of parents of stillbirths; if so, of the details; if
not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether there is
legal basis for HA's doctors to refuse to issue the
Certificate in respect of stillbirths of less than 24 weeks;
if so, of the details; whether HA will change such practice to
address the aspirations of some parents of stillbirths; if HA
will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the various parts of the question raised by the
Professor Hon Joseph Lee is as follows:
(1) The Department of
Health and the Hospital Authority (HA) do not maintain
statistical record on the number of cases of miscarriage
before the 24th week of pregnancy.
As for the number of abortuses with less than 24 weeks
of gestation collected upon HA's approval, HA has only kept
the relevant figures from 2015 onwards, which are tabulated
Number of abortuses with less than 24
weeks of gestation collected upon HA’s approval
2017 (as at June 15)
According to the information provided by the claimants to HA,
among the 23 cases, 15 involved burial in private cemeteries,
while the remaining eight involved cremation by private
(2) and (3) The
definition of "stillbirth" is based on the consensus of the
medical profession on the gestational age and birth weight at
which a baby is viable at birth.
In Hong Kong, the medical profession has defined
"stillbirth" as a baby born without sign of life, at or after
24 weeks of gestation, or with a birth weight of more than 500
grams when the gestational age is uncertain.
This definition is contained in the guidelines issued
by the Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
(HKCOG). The same
definition has been adopted by other countries.
Under section 18 of the Births and Deaths Registration
Ordinance (Cap. 174), doctors may issue a Certificate of
Still-birth (Form 13 under the Ordinance) in respect of a
HA will keep in view the latest developments in the definition
in other places and the HKCOG's guideline in order to review
whether the definition in Hong Kong needs to be updated.
As regards abortuses without a Certificate of Still-birth, HA
will let the parents concerned claim them back where feasible
provided that the relevant legal requirements and such
conditions as public health have been met.
Abortuses which have not been claimed will be handled
by HA in accordance with the relevant laws.