Pregnant women from the mainland whose husbands are not Hong Kong residents will no longer be admitted in local private hospitals starting next year. This is a response to the proposal by newly-elected chief executive Leung Chun-ying and a 180 degree turn from an earlier opposition to the plan.

Expecting parents in Hong Kong

The number of births by mainland Chinese women in Hong Kong nearly doubled in 2005 - from 10,128 in 2003 to 19,538 - according to the city's Hospital Authority. Many come to evade China's one-child policy, take advantage of higher quality health care or earn Hong Kong residency rights for their babies. Pic: AP

This development brings an even smaller window of opportunity for mainlanders who wish to obtain permanent residence or perhaps avail themselves of the more advanced medical facilities now afforded by affluents segments in Hong Kong society. Such proposal is much more radical than the earlier plan of scaling down on services provided for mainland maternity patients. But somehow this move shouldn’t supercede the Hippocratic Oath, a basic pledge by health professionals of practicing medicine ethically that whoever is in the hospital, regardless of race or financial state must receive adequate care and attention. Violation of this promise is highly unlikely, given the fact that it is the immigration officers who will stop pregnant women from entering Hong Kong’s territory, and not medical professionals.

It may be a challenge for border officers to determine whether an incoming pregnant woman should be allowed in or turned away. According to Ngai Sik-shui, Immigration Service Officers Association vice-chairman, several hundred extra officers would be needed to turn back pregnant mainlanders, who don’t have a delivery booking certificate issued by the Department of Health. Such certificate may never be issued again if the zero quota is fully implemented.

If higher hospital charges do not discourage affluent families to cross into Hong Kong and use its medical facilities, a warning issued by Mr. Leung might just do the trick. It is believed that the lure of permanent residence privilege accorded to children born in Hong Kong draws mainland parents to come over. But the incoming chief executive mentioned last week that children born to mainland parents would not be guaranteed residency. Should there be no legal obstacles to prevent authorities from imposing this proposal, this zero quota indicates Hong Kong is serious, if not desperate, in its effort to keep mainlanders off from local hospitals.

Should the doors be closed for mainland parents wishing to come to Hong Kong, nearby cities may be more than willing to welcome them in their effort to solidify their role as ideal medical tourism destinations.