Two mortuary workers in east China have been arrested and fired after the bodies of 21 infant babies and fetuses were found dumped in a river.
Two senior staff at Jining Medical University in Shandong province have also been fired over the incident on the outskirts of the city late last month.
At least eight of the bodies had tags indicating they came from the hospital. One of the 21 bodies, which have all since been cremated, was found in a plastic bag marked ‘hospital waste’. It is thought the corpses may have been those of aborted fetuses or babies who had died of illness.
A spokesperson for the city government said that the two mortuary workers, named as Zhu Zhenyu and Wang Zhijun, had been paid to dispose of the bodies by relatives of the dead.
“Investigations by police and health authorities show that Zhu and Wang had reached verbal agreements privately with relatives of the dead babies to dispose the bodies and charged fees,” the spokesman, Gong Zhenhua, said. “They subsequently transported the bodies secretly to the Guangfu River, but they had failed to bury the bodies completely.”
Tests on the river, which was not a source of drinking water, showed it had not been contaminated. The hospital officials who were removed from their posts were Li Luning and He Xin, director and deputy director of the hospital’s logistics department. A vice president of the hospital, Niu Haifeng, was also suspended over the incident.
Gong said the incident exposed “a serious loophole in the hospital’s management and indicates a lack of ethics and legal awareness of some hospital staff. “It exerts a very negative impact on society and teaches us a profound lesson,” he added. The city government has ordered a general overhaul of the treatment of bodies at all local hospitals.
After ordering a general overhaul of the treatment of bodies at all local hospitals, the city government has now said it would in future fund the disposal of baby bodies where the parents could not be located or could not afford the costs involved.
A deputy dean of philosophy at a university in the province said that rural families are often reluctant to bring baby bodies home for burial. Ma Guanghai of Shandong University’s School of Philosophy and Social Development said that families in these cases prefer to dump the body in a corner of the hospital or pay someone to bury it.
Cao Yongfu, Deputy Director of the Medical Ethics institute at the same university, said the case pointed up China’s lack of legislative provision for dead fetuses, which have no legal status.
He said national regulations determining the legal status of dead fetuses and clarifying the rules for dealing with baby bodies in a respectful manner were urgently needed.
At least 13 million abortions are thought to be carried out in China each year. The practice is common partly because of to the nation’s so-called “one-child policy”, which limits most urban couples to a single child. The rules are widely blamed for fueling abortions of female fetuses because boys are traditionally favored.
Allegations of poor treatment of patients in the country’s underfunded hospitals are also common. Last June, a hospital in central Hubei province was found to have dumped the bodies of two adults and six aborted fetuses at a construction site after failing to locate relatives of the dead. A bag containing severed human limbs was also found in the case in the city of Xiangfan.