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Clinic: Early baby scans a 'Chinese' thing

Councillor Chak Au says unwanted Asian traditions are seeping into Richmond

An ultrasound clinic in Richmond has come under fire for offering fetal scans weeks ahead of the prescribed industry norm.

A CBC documentary exposed UC Baby for proposing to an undercover reporter to carry out a 3D ultrasound scan 17 weeks into the pregnancy, instead of the commonly practiced 20 weeks.

After 20 weeks, it's generally considered too late for an elective abortion of the fetus.

The documentary suggested that performing ultrasounds early was being offered in predominantly Chinese and IndoCanadian communities where the practice of sex selection is more common.

If the fetus is discovered to be female, the woman then has the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy, especially if she already has female children at home.

In the documentary, a Chinese ultrasound technician at UC Baby (on Westminster Highway at Minoru Boulevard) offered to perform the early ultrasound on the reporter, who had a hidden camera, after the woman said she would be distraught if she was having another girl.

The technician, who came from China a year ago to work in the Richmond clinic and is a UC Baby franchisee, then suggested to the reporter that if the scan shows the fetus to be a girl, she should "see family doctor."

UC Baby's Richmond manager, Rose Kalynchuk, and president founder, Tina Ureten, both classed the technician's offer and suggestion as "mistakes," and blamed the fact she's from a culture that encourages abortion.

The company said it has since clamped down on the practice of early scans, but Richmond city councillor Chak Au - an immigrant from China in 1988 and considered a "bridge" between local Chinese and Canadian cultures - says many Asians still prefer to have boys as opposed to girls.

"I'm not surprised (early scans) are being offered in our community," said Au, a Vancouver Coastal Health family therapist.

"Although things are starting to change, there is still a large number of people who prefer to have a male child.

"There's a cultural history that, if you get a male child, you have another pair of hands for production. In China, men are supposed to work and women are supposed to stay at home."

Also, there's the tradition that only males will get a share of the family inheritance, Au added.

"So, the more males you have in the family, the more chance you will have of getting some inheritance.

"This is changing, but the mindset is still there."

As for blaming the technician's "mistakes" on the fact she came from China a year ago, Au said, "We're in Canada and no one should be approving of that kind of practice or supporting it.

"I don't think there are any laws against this, but maybe there should be, this is Canada after all."

CBC's investigation team visited nearly two dozen so-called "entertainment ultrasound" businesses in three Canadian cities.

Of the 22 centres visited, 15, including UC Baby in Richmond, agreed to book an appointment for an ultrasound that would give a couple the sex of the fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Five of them agreed to perform tests as early as 14 weeks into pregnancy.

The investigation follows two recent studies that indicate the practice of aborting females in favour of males, common in countries such as India and China, has now spread to those same cultural communities in Canada.

A study released in April in the Canadian Medical Association Journal confirmed that the male-to-female ratio for third-born children to mothers born in India and living in Ontario is higher than the natural rate.

UC Baby Richmond's manager and president both told the News the technician in question has been warned about her conduct, and all employees and managers across the company's 28 Canada-wide locations have been reminded of the "strict guidelines" on offering scans before 20 weeks.

"Everyone is going for abortion in China and our president has had a serious chat with the Chinese technician," said Kalynchuk.

"She knows the rules now. But she is an experienced technician. She realizes she made a mistake, 20 weeks is our policy."

The technician's suggestion to go "see doctor" if the fetus is a girl was "also a mistake; it's kind of a Chinese culture thing. It was unfortunate," added Kalynchuk.

"She knows now that she can't talk like that, she can't recommend those kind of things."

Kalynchuk also noted, "The (reporter) spent 15 minutes pushing her to get the answers she wanted, you don't see that in the video."

Ureten told the News that a newsletter went out to everyone in the organization, setting out new employee standards.

"Sadly, some of our employees were not following the rules," she said.

"Everyone has a different opinion on the subject; it depends on where you're coming from. She's from China and the government there is encouraging people have abortions. I was sorry to see she was keeping those Chinese cultures over here."

Ureten said there were already "strict standards on our operations guide; perhaps (the technician) missed that part and was just trying to make the client happy."

acampbell@richmond-news.com