CHANGSHA, Aug. 15 -- The family of a woman who died during childbirth in central China are locked in a blame game with the hospital that treated her, as doctor-patient tensions have once again reached boiling point in the country.
Controversy has raged since the 27-year-old woman, surnamed Zhang, died on Sunday after delivering a baby by cesarean at the Maternal and Child Health Hospital of Xiangtan City in Hunan Province.
According to the hospital, during the cesarean, Zhang was diagnosed with amniotic fluid embolism. This rare condition, in which amniotic fluid enters the mother's blood stream, triggering an allergic reaction, proved fatal. Health authorities have launched an investigation into her death.
While the family dispute the cause of Zhang's death, they are also aggrieved over the manner in which they discovered it. Meanwhile, hospital authorities say the doctors acted as they did because they were afraid of the likelihood of violence against them.
At midnight on Sunday, Zhang's family, having received no updates for hours after being told by doctors of her dangerous condition, broke into the locked operation room and found the doctors had left, leaving Zhang's bloody body covered with a sheet.
Yang Jian, deputy head of the hospital, said doctors had failed to update the family because they were concentrating on saving Zhang's life, and that the door had been locked "because the presence of emotional people may have interrupted the order of the operating room."
Hearing the family's attempts to break in, the doctors retreated to a nearby office for fear of being attacked, leaving Zhang's body behind.
"They were very emotional at that time, repeatedly kicking the locked door," Yang said of the family members.
A patient attacked a doctor at the hospital over a treatment dispute last month, leaving medical practitioners there in fear, he added.
A doctor participating in Zhang's surgery said, "We tried our best to save her life, but the family members did not believe us."
Following the episode, the family posted images online of Zhang's body lying on the surgery table, stirring wide debate.
On Weibo.com, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the number of posts about the case had passed 230,000 by Friday afternoon.
Some Internet users expressed sympathy with the doctors, while others said that the hospital's handling of the incident provoked the family into their impassioned break-in.
"Irrespective of whether doctors mishandled the surgery, the hospital should at least notify the family in a timely manner what had happened," said netizen Yin Shanshan.
"Whatever the situation, doctors should not have abandoned a pregnant woman on the surgery table. It is a fundamental ethical issue," said another with the screen name "Bah, This is love."
"Blinking Eyes," however, raised doubt over the family members' intentions. "No doctor would like to cause a medical accident. There are too many patients and family members who try to seek compensation by starting a brawl."
The opinion was backed by "Good morning, New Zealand," who posted, "Funny! Why don't the family members just come out with how much money they want?"
The Chinese medical sector has reported increasing violence stemming from strained doctor-patient relations. Many patients are dissatisfied with difficulties accessing treatment, high medical fees, and in some cases, doctors' perceived unfriendly attitudes. Meanwhile, doctors complain of long working hours and low pay.
In an extreme case, a 17-year-old patient knifed four medical workers after "misunderstandings" toward the treatment prescribed by the hospital in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, leaving one dead and three others injured in March 2012.
In February this year, a doctor in the same province was beaten to death by a patient.
Zhou Shenghua, professor of the Xiangya Second Hospital under Central South University, said doctors fearing to communicate with patients' families had clearly aggravated the tension between the two parties.
Zhou advised hospitals to establish reception centers staffed by professional personnel to accept complaints and mediate between patients and their families to avoid such tension.