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Hospital holds newborn hostage when parents can't pay their bill

Dongguan Times, April 27, 2010

In January, a couple checked into the Dongguan Maternal & Child Healthcare Hospital (东莞市妇幼保健院) for a C-section. When the mother was discharged half a month later, the hospital held onto the infant because the parents had paid just 1,200 RMB of their total medical bill, which amounted to nearly 40,000 RMB.

Today's Dongguan Times reported the story. The front-page image shows the new father, Liu Bohu, checking his bill on one of the hospital's information kiosks.

Hospital Seizes Infant to Force Fee Payment

Parents: The family really has no money; they hope to pay in installments
Maternity Hospital: The child's parents should offer something to show their sincerity

Zhao Hongjie / DT

Liu Bohu's mood was like yesterday's weather, relentlessly gloomy.

Yesterday Liu's son was one hundred days old, but because of 39,229.75 RMB in outstanding fees, his son had become a "hostage" at the city's Maternal & Child Healthcare Hospital.

Yang Yong, head of pediatrics at the hospital, told this reporter yesterday afternoon that Liu had only paid 1,200 RMB prior to the hospital stay but had made not a cent in additional payments, so he showed no good faith whatsoever.

The anxiety of childbirth
Newborn son "hospitalized" for almost 100 days due to nonpayment

Liu Bohu, 32 years old this year, is a resident of the village of Xiniupo in the town of Dalang. He previously worked as a guard in Chang'an, where he made 900 RMB a month.

At the beginning of 2007, he and his wife began to have trouble and they later separated.

In October 2008, he moved in with Yi Haijin, a woman from Zhanjiang who was selling clothes in Dalingshan.

In May 2009, Yi became pregnant.

On January 19 of this year, when Yi was eight months pregnant, she was hospitalized at the city's Maternal & Child Healthcare Hospital. Because her amniotic fluid was low, she needed an immediate c-section.

"They only paid a deposit of 1,200 RMB, which is far less than the surgery fee." A member of the medical staff at the hospital said that the mother's condition was serious, "so out of a humanitarian spirit, the hospital performed a c-section that preserved the life of mother and child."

Half a month later, Yi Haijin was discharged, but her son remained in the hospital.

"They paid just 1,200 RMB since entering the hospital and not one cent more. So we had to keep the child at the hospital," said a staff member.

Hospital has no other choice
Family members should contribute a little as a show of good faith

It ought to have been a joyous occasion of their son's hundredth day, but ever since he was born the child had never been home.

At 1:30 yesterday afternoon, Liu Bohu carried Yi Haijin on the back of his bike as he rode through the rain to toward Dalingshan. Two and a half hours later they arrived at the hospital.

A fee inquiry showed that they owed a total of 39,299.75 RMB in medical fees.

"We planned on paying in installments, but the hospital was unwilling," Liu said. In frustration, he said that after the child was born, he lost his job, and Yi had come down with diabetes and could not work either. "Our lives are now totally supported by her mother selling stir-fry."

"We had no alternative," Yang Yong said. Yesterday afternoon he told this reporter that if Liu and Yi had shown good faith by paying 50 or 100 RMB at a time, then they would have let them take the child home.

Yang said, "If their family really doesn't have any money, then staying at the hospital is better going home."

Lawyer's opinion
The hospital's action was clearly inappropriate

Saving lives and nursing the wounded is a hospital's vocation, "Save first, collect fees later" is the principle that the health care system ought to follow.

But the data shows that across the city, public hospitals average hundreds of thousands of RMB in uncollected fees. Experts say that this phenomenon demonstrates insufficiencies in the social security system. The government ought to coordinate various agencies to resolve this social issue.

Nearly 40,000 RMB in medical fees is an astronomical sum to Liu Bohu.

Lu Jun of Guangdong Guanxin Law Offices said that in this case, the hospital's action was clearly inappropriate: "Hospitals can ask guardians to provide an address and photocopies of IDs. If they don't pay their medical bills, then they can be sued." Lu said that by keeping a child as a bargaining chip, the hospital shows its lack of options. One can sympathize, but its actions actually violate the law.

However, Lu admitted that behind the case of a newborn being unable to go home because of unpaid bills reflect current imperfections in compensation mechanisms. "In these circumstances, the financial pressure upon a health care institution because of uncollected fees is bound to affect the development of health services and the sustainability of the doctor-patient relationship."

Update (2010.04.28): The Chinese Law Prof Blog has an interesting discussion of how debt hostages are treated in Chinese law:

Remarkably (to me, anyway), even the formal legal system treats hostage-taking as less reprehensible when it's coupled with a demand for debt repayment. Although the 1979 Criminal Law curiously did not directly prohibit kidnapping for ransom, it did prohibit kidnapping for sale, and made unlawful detention punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The 1997 Criminal Law contains a new provision punishing kidnapping for ransom by up to life imprisonment (Art. 239). The taking of debt hostages, however, is not considered a type of kidnapping for ransom. Instead, it is assimilated into unlawful detention (Art. 238) and punished by no more than three years' imprisonment. (I suppose this is progress; the specific mention of debt hostages is new to the 1997 Criminal Law, and presumably is there to make clear that hostage-taking is still unlawful even when you think you've got a good reason for it.)

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There are currently 8 Comments for Hospital holds newborn hostage when parents can't pay their bill.

Comments on Hospital holds newborn hostage when parents can't pay their bill

This is horrifying!

Definitely a key building block towards a harmonious society


1200RMB is his monthly salary and then some - paying that much is surely good will enough. What's with the lame 'if they'd paid 50 or 100 rmb at a time' excuse?

The lawyer's comments are bizarre. "Inappropriate"? This is kidnapping. Taking human hostages doesn't become lawful just because someone really owes you money. Chinese law doesn't provide for debt slavery of the debtor, let alone someone other than the debtor.

Ah but Don, this is the new and improved feudalistic Chinese dynasty where serfs are chic again and lords & dames have the run of society

Price is unreasonable! Hospital should present a estimate fee before doing c-section and then to suggest other hospital if Liu couldn't pay. 4000EUR is too much for c-section in any European country. Note that in most cases, Liu wouldn't be obligated to pay in Europe.

This is just a manifestation of problems China have in health sector. They ran into American system with population not able to finance it. Of course there's a hospital with best equipment, but who can afford them?


The total cost of a chid birth in an average European hospital is about 2000€ a day, including all fees. With C-section and 4 or 5 days of stay in the hospital, this amounts to about 15000€, usually paid by social security.

In this case, there is about 4000€ for about two whole weeks, which is comparatively expensive but not really outrageous.

But then again, taking a newborn hostage, depriving him from the very important first days of bonding and parents' care is something absolutely horrible.

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