Chinese Baby Girl’s Birth Defect Raises Discussion on Prenatal Screening Accuracy

The birth of an infant with physical abnormalities, despite recurrent prenatal screenings, has sparked discussions on Chinese social media. A running investigation will reveal whether the hospital can be held accountable.

A Chinese baby girl has made the news after she was born with birth defects, despite 8 prenatal screenings allegedly showing no health problems in the unborn infant.

On August 26, the 26-year-old Youping Lin from Shenzhen gave birth to a baby girl. Although the woman told Chinese media the labor went well, she was shocked to learn her newborn had severe psychical abnormalities, with the right side of the face missing the nostril and ear. The baby’s right eye is also closed, Lin said.

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The baby girl, born in Shenzhen on August 26.

According to The Paper and Legal Evening News (November 8), the girl’s birth defects nearly made her mother “collapse” and has made her clinically depressed.

 

“In a total of 8 prenatal screenings and 5 ultrasounds, doctors repeatedly told Lin that the unborn baby was perfectly normal.”

 

In a total of 8 prenatal screenings and 5 ultrasounds, doctors told Lin that the unborn baby was perfectly normal.

A running investigation by a third party institution [not further defined in Chinese media reports] will reveal if the hospital can be held accountable for the baby’s birth defects.

Youping Lin got pregnant in late 2015 and went for her first prenatal testing in February of 2016 at the Futian Renmin Hospital in Shenzhen. The ultrasounds included one 3D ultrasound. At the time, the view on the right side of the unborn baby’s face was blocked by its own hand. Nevertheless, doctors told the mother the unborn baby was completely normal.

According to The Paper, hospital representatives have stated that they have used all possible prenatal screenings to detect abnormalities. They also said that although it is extremely rare for birth defects such as these to go unnoticed in prenatal screenings, they cannot be completely ruled out.

A similar news story also came out earlier this year, when a woman gave birth to a baby that was missing one arm. The distressed mother told reporters that repeated ultrasounds also did not spot the fact that her unborn baby had a birth defect.

 

“In China, approximately 900,000 infants are born with a birth defect or disability every year.”

 

Worldwide, 6% of annual live births are affected by birth defects. China has a relatively high occurrence; approximately 900,000 infants are born with a birth defect or disability every year, which is around 5.6% of total newborns (Liu et al 2016, 3615). Pregnancy affected by serious anomalies is allowed to be terminated at any time of the pregnancy in the People’s Republic of China (Deng et al 2015, 312).

On the Sina Weibo social media platform, the case has led to a discussion on who is responsible for the child’s physical abnormalities.

Many commenters think that the hospital is responsible: “The fact that the doctor said the unborn child was normal, even while the right side of the face was blocked by its hand, shows that they had a low sense of responsibility; that was just wishful thinking,” one netizen comments.

“After 8 prenatal screenings, this did not come out?!”, another Weibo user comments.

As reported by The Paper, hospital representatives have admitted that doctors would normally do a second 3D ultrasound if the fetus is not fully visible in the first one, but that this was not done in the case of Youping Lin.

“Poor baby girl! Is there no way to do plastic surgery? The doctors should help,” one commenter says.

“This is up for the law to decide. Who ever is responsible should take responsibility,” another Weibo user comments.

“But how can this be compensated for?” another netizen wonders: “In the end, it is the child and its family that will suffer. What kind of compensation will lessen their suffering?” Others also agree, writing: “What does it matter who is responsible? What matters is what will happen to this girl.”

 

“Some families consider their disabled child a shameful secret to be hidden.”

 

Giving birth to a child with severe physical abnormalities and/or disability has a huge impact on Chinese parents and families. People with disabilities are often stigmatized in China. A large number of disabled young children have no access to education because schools refuse to accept them.

Due to the ubiquitous stigmatization and discrimination, some families even consider their disabled child a “shameful secret to be hidden” (Coonan 2016).

Another major burden to Chinese households living with a child with a birth defect or disability is that it greatly affects their living standard. Without access to public welfare, medical treatments can be very costly or even unaffordable to some families. In Disability Policy in China (2016), the director of a large State Child Welfare institution is quoted telling about a 4-year-old girl that was abandoned at the Tianjin Railway station; the institution’s staff found that the girl had already had two major surgeries and that she needed just one more operation in order to survive (Mendes & Srighantan 2009, 1).

With such heavy burdens, many expecting parents will choose to terminate pregnancies when the unborn baby is diagnosed with a birth defect. In the case of Down Syndrome, around 95% of Chinese women terminate their pregnancy after learning the syndrome is detected in the fetus.

China’s Ministry of Health has promoted nationwide prenatal screenings for birth defects since 2003 (Deng et al 2015, 312). As pointed out in recent Chinese research, there has since been a sharp increase in the percentage of prenatal diagnosis and consequential birth termination (ibid., 315).

 

“Poor baby, I hope the parents will not ignore her and take care of her.”

 

Many Chinese netizens reflect on this news story and think about their own family. Discussions about the ethical issue of possible abortion for fetal abnormality, that is more prevalent in western countries, seem practically absent on Chinese social media. One of the main issues under discussion is the cost of prenatal screenings and their trustworthiness – this story concerned many mothers-to-be: “As an expectant mother, this news really worries me,” one woman replies.

Another person writes: “I am so very happy my baby is healthy. I also feel bad for this family that will be so burdened from now on, poor girl.”

“Poor baby, I hope the parents will not ignore her and take care of her,” one commenter says. Other Weibo users are also concerned about the girl’s future: “What will her life look like? She will endure much pain, just as her parents.”

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Coonan, Clifford. 2016. “Paralympic success challenges China’s attitude to disability.” Irish Times (October 3) http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/asia-pacific/paralympic-success-challenges-china-s-attitude-to-disability-1.2813993 [8.11.16].

Deng, C., Yi, L., Mu, Y., Zhu, J., Qin, Y., Fan, X., Li, Q. & Dai, L. 2015. “Recent trends in the birth prevalence of Down syndrome in China: impact of prenatal diagnosis and subsequent terminations.” Prenatal Diagnosis, 35(4): 311–318.

Liu, Q.-G., Sun, J., Xiao, X., & Song, G.-R. 2016. “Birth Defects Data from Surveillance Hospitals in Dalian City, China, 2006-2010.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 7058 (November): 1–22.

Mendes, Errol, and Sakunthala Srighantan (ed). 2009. Confronting Discrimination and Inequality in China: Chinese and Canadian Perspectives. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

NB: other references are linked to in-text.

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Author

About the author: Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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