The father of a child born in B.C. via Canada’s controversial “birth tourism” route is suing the doctors who delivered the baby and the so-called “birth hotel” which brought the family from China.
Peng Chen, on behalf of his now four-year-old son Stephen, alleges that two doctors — Brenda Tan and Balbinder Gill — as well as Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), were negligent in the provision of medical care to Stephen and his mother, Rang Heng, at Richmond Hospital.
His lawsuit makes references to complications at the time of Stephen’s birth, resulting in his son being in the intensive care unit for several days afterwards.
Chen, a resident of China, claims that, as a result of their negligence in 2018, his son suffered brain damage, seizures, delayed growth and development, cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment.
He further alleges that Jie Zheng and a Ms. Liang — who operated or worked at ABC, a birthing house on Ash Street in Richmond — misrepresented the level of antenatal and/or perinatal care and expertise that his wife and child would receive in Canada.
Chen claims that, because he had “little or no knowledge of the health-care system in Canada” he was “particularly vulnerable” to the alleged misrepresentations from Zheng and Liang.
He alleged that ABC was negligent in misrepresenting the level of care, both in its adverts in China and to the family when they arrived in Canada.
Chen said he entered into an agreement with ABC for Stephen to be born in Canada and that they arrived at the Richmond birth house in January of 2018, three months before the birth at Richmond Hospital.
Two other unnamed doctors and two unnamed nurses working at Richmond Hospital on the day of Stephen’s birth are also named in the suit.
All named defendants in the lawsuit have denied any negligence.
The allegations are more than four years old, but Dr. Tan’s legal team recently won a court application to have a video conference with Stephen’s mother, because her husband has, thus far, been unable to answer any questions with regard to Tan’s care of his wife and child.
Child suffered 'hypoxia, ischemia' to brain, father claims
With regard to the specifics of the day of the birth, Chen claims his wife attended Richmond Hospital in the early hours of April 18, 2018, but was discharged with instructions to return when labour had progressed.
Later that day, according to the lawsuit, Heng returned to the hospital and, at some point not specified, was given oxytocin - which promotes the progress of labour.
Chen claims that, between his wife being given oxytocin and the actual birth, Stephen “suffered hypoxia and ischemia to his brain.”
He said his son required resuscitation and several days of intensive care.
Chen claims that the unnamed nurses failed to ensure timely medical intervention to prevent brain damage and they failed to properly investigate, assess or evaluate his wife’s medical history prior to the birth and failed to alert other health professionals of fetal distress in a timely fashion.
He alleges that doctors Tan, who he says was the family’s assigned GP, and Gill and the two unnamed doctors failed to provide adequate prenatal care to his wife and failed to assess the risk factors in view of his wife’s medical history and “physical presentation.”
Chen claims that the doctors also failed to properly advise his wife of the risks of vaginal delivery or discuss the options to it.
And he alleges that, as a result of his son’s injuries, he, his wife and family members have to provide care above and beyond what would be reasonable out of “natural love and affection.”
Chen, on behalf of Stephen, is seeking unspecified general and special damages and health-care costs.
Vancouver Coastal Health denies negligence
VCH, which runs Richmond Hospital, has denied any negligence on its part or that of its employees and is disputing many of Chen’s claims, including Stephen’s injuries.
In its version of events, VCH claims Chen’s wife was admitted to hospital at around 12:15 a.m. on the day of the birth and that the second stage of labour started at around 7 p.m, almost two hours before the birth.
It states in its response to the claims that all care of Chen’s wife was “appropriate” and “in accordance with a reasonable standard of practice and procedure,” adding that nothing it or its employees did or failed to do contributed to the alleged injuries to Stephen.
VCH is seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit and seeks its costs associated with defending itself.
Birth doctors claim they did their jobs
Dr. Tan, in her response to the claim, denies that she was an agent of Richmond Hospital or that of the birthing house business ABC and is also disputing the alleged injuries suffered by Stephen.
She said she became Chen’s wife’s GP two months before the birth for the purposes of providing antenatal care and met with her several times in her office.
Tan has denied negligence and that the care she provided to Chen’s wife and son was appropriate and in accord with standard medical practice.
She added in her response that Chen’s wife was informed of the risks associated with the treatment received and gave consent.
Dr. Gill, meanwhile, denies that he assisted with the delivery of Stephen, claiming that he only helped Chen’s wife push the baby out, when it became apparent there was an emergency.
In response to Chen’s claims that Stephen suffered hypoxia and ischemia to his brain prior to being born, Gill said the child was born with “no respiratory effort and no heart rate detected.”
He said that, once the baby was delivered, “best efforts were made to provide resuscitation” until the child was transferred to a “higher level of care.”
Similarly to Dr. Tan, Gill said the care and assessment given to Stephen were “reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with that expected of pediatricians practicing” in B.C. and that nothing he did or did not do contributed to any alleged injuries or loss to the child.
And if there were any injuries to the child, Gill said it was not his fault and could have been caused by other defendants or unknown parties.
Gill further alleges that the injuries in question could have been caused by the negligence of Chen and his wife by failing to take reasonable care of their own health and failing to seek medical attention at the “onset of signs or symptoms,” failing to provide a complete and accurate history of health-care providers and failing to follow the advice of health-care providers.
Both Tan and Gill are asking for the claims against them be dismissed and they be awarded costs.
What is ‘birth tourism?’
So-called “birth tourism” is when pregnant, non-Canadian women fly to Canada in order to give birth and secure citizenship for their babies.
In addition to receiving benefits, like healthcare and education, when the children become adults, they can also sponsor their parents to immigrate to Canada.
The Canada Border Services Agency has said previously that pregnancy is not a reason in itself to refuse entry to the country to a tourist.
However, if a foreign national is seeking entry to Canada for the purpose of undergoing medical treatment and can’t show he or she has the money to pay for it, then that person could be deemed as a potential excessive demand on health service.
The practice has been a hot topic for many years, especially in Richmond, due to its Chinese population and proximity to Vancouver International Airport.
Earlier this week, the Richmond News’ parent company Glacier Media reported how birth tourism rates — which plummeted during the pandemic — are expected to spike again when the Chinese government lifts pandemic travel restrictions.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, B.C. hospitals recorded 110 non-residents of Canada who paid to give birth, based on data obtained from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). Last year, 194 such births were recorded.
However, in the year prior to the pandemic, a record 868 self-paying non-residents — the vast majority of whom are understood to be Chinese nationals on tourist visas — garnered automatic citizenship for their newborns.
Richmond Hospital has been, for many years, at the epicentre of the industry, with 502 non-resident births in 2019-2020.
And the so-called “birth hotels” in the city are not breaking any laws.