Ma Rongrong’s (馬茸茸)labor pains were unbearable. For hours she had begged for a caesarean section to ease her agony. After multiple requests were refused, she jumped five floors from a hospital window in northern China to her death.
Ma’s family and her doctors have blamed each other for denying her the surgery that could have eased her suffering.
The tragedy has attracted intense attention in China, with many wondering how Ma could be denied such a common procedure.
There is no clear answer, but the incident has sparked a national discussion on everything from the high cost of healthcare and patients’ rights to the dangers of traditional Chinese family values.
The conversation reached fever pitch this week after leaked security footage showing Ma on her knees in front of her family in a hospital corridor went viral.
In response to the uproar, the official People’s Daily said in an editorial that no matter who is to blame, the incident should serve as a national wake-up call.
“It is necessary to pay more attention to pregnant women’s feelings and pay greater respect to their autonomy,” it said. “We need to have more empathetic understanding and care for them. We cannot only think about policies and interests.”
The hospital and Ma’s family have traded blame for refusing her request for a caesarean section, presumably provoking her to kill herself rather than continue suffering through an excruciating labor.
The hospital has said it recommended Ma undergo the procedure, but that she and her husband insisted on natural birth in the belief that it was better for the child.
As evidence, the hospital posted Ma’s surgery log on its official social media account, showing that the family had denied her requests.
Ma had signed an authorization granting her husband the right to make medical decisions on her behalf, it said, adding that the hospital therefore “had no right to change the delivery method without [his] consent.”
However, Ma’s husband, Yan Zhuangzhuang (延壯壯), told the Beijing Youth Daily that he had agreed to his wife’s surgery — it was the doctor who said it was unnecessary.
Under Chinese law, the decision should have been made by the person herself, said Feng Lihua (馮立華), an expert on medical disputes at Beijing’s Zhongdun Law Firm.
“It cannot be authorized by other people,” he said.
The controversy has been hotly discussed for days, and by the end of the week the hashtag #YulinPregnantWomanJumpsToDeath was the third-highest trending topic on Weibo.
The incident is under police investigation, but the question for many is why Ma was not allowed to choose her own course of care.
Some said that the family was not able or willing to pay for the surgery — a common problem in a nation where anything other than the most basic medical care can be out of reach for the average person.
Others have wondered whether government policy was at least partly to blame for Ma’s death.
China has long kept a tight rein on women’s reproductive rights, sometimes using force.
After decades of promoting a strict one-child policy to limit its booming population, China has reversed course, pushing women to have two children in hopes of rejuvenating the country’s graying labor force.
While caesarean section’s are favored in China as a less painful option, the government has pressured hospitals to reduce the caesarean rate which is among the world’s highest.
“The hospital wants to limit C-sections and the families don’t want to spend money,” one commenter said. “This type of system and this type of family produced this type of tragedy.”
The government has also pushed a return to more traditional, Confucian values that privilege the family over the individual.
What that means for childbirth is that husbands and their mothers — not women themselves — are more likely to call the shots.
“Why can’t the hospital carry out a C-section upon her request?” one commenter said on Weibo. “Simply because her family does not agree? What kind of rule is this?”
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