The game Scruples; that’s the first thing I thought of when I read “Plea for help to get sick Aussie home” in the Canberra Times this morning.

Thomas Barry Moore is in a vegetative state in a Chinese hospital
Thomas Barry Moore is in a vegetative state in a Chinese hospital

The Department of Foreign Affairs has refused to fund the repatriation of a former air force serviceman who has been in a coma in a Chinese hospital for 116 days.

Relatives of Thomas Barry Moore have been warned that the 70-year-old Australian would be ”removed” from the hospital and Chinese police would be contacted if they were unable to meet medical payments.

Mr Moore suffered a stroke on December 31 and has remained in a vegetative state in the Zheng Zhou Traditional Chinese Medical Hospital ever since.

Mr Barry’s daughter Tracy Woolley, who lives in Canberra, contacted DFAT on January 4 and asked for assistance because she couldn’t afford to visit her father or fund the estimated $160,000 cost of his return to Australia.

What a terrible thing to have to be going through. I’m fortunate to have two quite healthy parents, but can certainly empathize the sense of helplessness a child must feel when their parent is gravely sick or dying. To couple that with thousands of kilometres separation and finances preventing you from being at their side, or providing them with the love and care they deserve — I really can’t begin to understand what Mr. Moore’s daughter is going through.

But where I get hung up in the story, and where possibly my compunction for compassion is superseded by my libertarian practicality, is when I ask if it should be a government’s responsibility (and thus tax payer responsibility) to pay more than $100K to fix a problem they didn’t create, and thus potentially open a very wide door of precedent.

I hope that doesn’t come across as terribly callous and insensitive, as I really don’t mean it as such. I completely understand Mr. Moore’s daughter is in an impossible situation and just looking for help — any help.

The blame for the mess, unfortunately, rests firmly on the shoulders of the one person in absolutely no position to do anything about it — Mr. Moore. At 70-years-old, living in a foreign country, you would expect that his undeniably wanning mortality may have occurred to him and he could have better prepared so as not to put his family in such an awkward spot.

But then, it could really happen to any of us laowai, at any time. And how many of us are really prepared? Maybe the engineers and business expats are all set and good to stroke; but half-pats, students, travellers and ESL teachers? I’ve yet to see an ESL job that offered anything more than incidental medical coverage, and most of the time even that is a complete sham. How many of us have comprehensive emergency plans, financial nest eggs and insurance to cover every, if any, contingency?

I’m willing to bet not many of us have given this much thought, and that really is the only reason I’m posting this. I don’t know how things will turn out for Tracy and her father, but I truly hope he finds his way home and isn’t (quite literally) pushed to the curb when his medical bills go past due. For the rest of us, I hope Mr. Moore can serve as a kick in the pants for all of us to spend a bit of time considering what would happen in a worst-case scenario — not just what would happen to ourselves, but what position our lack of preparedness could potential put our loved ones in.

Advice, opinions and resources are encouraged in the comments.


  1. Wow. Tough situation. However, I look at this through the eyes of an American. And I think it should be the government’s responsibility to get him home.

    This is why …. I pay taxes. A lot of taxes. To the US. Yet I don’t live there to take advantage of what my taxes are used for. I am told that I get the “protection” and “support” of the US government overseas. Okay, then that should include getting me home.

    But you’re right …. who in China is really covered well? If something happens, do your friends even know who to call back in your home country?

  2. Agreed, a tough situation.

    As a fellow aussie though, who has never really been one for travel insurance (and I’ve been to my fair share of questionable places), let alone comprehensive medical coverage I believe it should not be down to the government to pay for this mans return home.

    I willingly and knowingly travel the globe without insurance and am quite aware of the poor medical coverage I get when accepting jobs in China. I believe if you act like me, as Mr Moore has, it is your own fault and not the job of our governments to bail us out.

    I agree that if DFAT agreed to bring him home that could create a dangerous precedence and other Australians will then expect the same treatment. ‘Why pay medical insurance when the government will pay for my return like that Mr Moore bloke’ would be a fair point to make.

    It sad that these thigns happen and I sympathise with Mr Moore and his family, but don;t we all take risks when we choose tolive abroad? I think its part and parcel of the whole process.

  3. Pingback: Hao Hao Report

  4. I agree with your callous Libertarian ideas. It’s not callous though it’s reality. Hmmm. let me think who to blame. The laws of the country that allow a 70 year old foreigner to live in Zhengzhou. What was he doing there anyway?

    @yokie kuma. where do you draw the line when the gov’t should send you home? chronic food poisoning? Vegetative state? Pregnant? Heck, people could fake a lot of stuff just to get a free ride home!

    @clinta I agree with you that it is his own fault. I would go on to say that if people want to help they help. The article that Ryan cites is the next step. I assume the immediate family is unable to help.

    Ryan, please do a follow up and see how this guy gets home if he does. Sad story but good to think about it.

    • I was kind of hoping some resources would pop up in the comments. There are a fair number of international insurance brokers out there, some we’ve advertised here on Lost Laowai. But I really don’t have much experience with any of them.

      Anyone have any experience with decent insurance for expats in China?

  5. Very tough case, we hope everything will be ok!
    Yes, it proves the fact that medical insurance is a must for any foreigner in China.

    I’ve been using the health insurance by Abacare since i moved to Hong Kong first time several months ago. If you would like to get any comments from me about their services, feel free to ask.

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲