Dr. Manny: 'Birthing tourism' not just a federal issue, it's medical too

Over the past five years or so I have noticed a growing trend in my delivery rooms, with new mothers asking almost immediately after I deliver their child, “How fast can I get the birth certificate?”

As many of you know, I deliver babies in the New York tri-state area. For years now, I have been amazed by the number of international women who arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia International Airport nearly full-term. They are then whisked off to nearest hospital ready to deliver their baby in America, gaining their child U.S. citizenship in the process.

I don’t know how these women are medically cleared to travel in such a state, and many times, I am sure that they attempt to conceal their pregnancy. As a practicing high-risk OB-GYN, the most frightening element of this trend is that it creates a dangerous scenario for the mother-to-be, baby and medical staff. The attending medical staff is dealing with very little medical information and almost no knowledge of what kind of prenatal care the pregnant woman has received.

Despite these dangers, and the fact that the practice is not new, there hasn’t been anything done to prevent it, which is why it did not surprise me to read the article “Feds crack down on Chinese ‘birth tourism,’” by Fox’s William La Jeunesse on our website.  In it, he details a raid by federal officials in Southern California who served warrants at “Chinese birthing houses” or “maternity hotels.” According to the article, wealthy Chinese couples were paying up to $80,000 to have their child born in the U.S., guaranteeing them U.S. citizenship.

This practice presents a rare ethical dilemma for us in the medical field. What makes it hard is that for physicians who really care about neonatal outcomes and minimizing internal injuries, these types of deliveries are putting both women and children in harm’s way. I will never deny obstetrical care to a patient who shows up at my doorstep, it is my bound duty to give them the best care that I can. But I am being asked to play a part in a script that I did not write.

We know that our immigration policy in America is broken, and I understand that the federal government is already trying to deal with the millions of illegal immigrats already here. But if we don’t find ways to protect humans from themselves, things will only get worse before they get better.

Political and economic conditions around this planet of ours are quite unstable, so I understand why parents do want to seek a U.S. birth certificate for their children. But I also know from personal experience in my practice, that there are parents who, as soon as their child receives citizenship, return to their native homeland. For what purpose, I do not know, but there are many American children who spend just a few weeks in their country before being brought back to their parents’ native homeland.

This is not a way to grow a nation, and it’s certainly something that medical societies and federal agencies must address. Women need protection, children need protection, but our health care system needs protection too.