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Southwest Japan hospital shelters woman seeking to give birth without family knowledge

Jikei Hospital director Takeshi Hasuda, left, and others announce they have taken protective custody of a woman who wished to give birth without letting anyone know, in Nishi Ward, Kumamoto, on Oct. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Yuki Kurisu)

KUMAMOTO -- A hospital in this southwestern Japan city that introduced a de facto "confidential birth" system allowing isolated pregnant women to give birth anonymously, announced Oct. 29 that it had taken in a woman who wants to give birth without her family knowing, in what would be the first anonymous birth at the hospital.

    But the Kumamoto Municipal Government has asked Jikei Hospital to refrain from confidential births on the basis that its "legality is unclear." In response, the hospital stressed the situation's urgency, saying, "We have asked the woman to reveal her identity, but if she does not consent then it is possible the birth will be confidential." The hospital asked the city government to take immediate action and respond by Nov. 10.

    Since 2007, Jikei Hospital has operated a "baby hatch" -- formally the Konotori no Yurikago (stork's cradle) -- which anonymously accepts babies whose parents are unable to raise them alone. In December 2019, the hospital also introduced its own system allowing anonymous births as a way to prevent isolated births. It offers the service on condition that the birth mother discloses her identity to the head of its neonatal consultation office.

    Because anonymous births can prevent a child from learning about their origins, the hospital encourages mothers to reveal their identities until just before birth. There have been no confidential births so far.

    The hospital claims that even if a child is born confidentially, they can access their parents' information at the hospital if they wish to upon reaching a certain age. Conversely, the city government has expressed concern that confidential births "may infringe on a child's right to know their origins."

    According to hospital director Takeshi Hasuda at an Oct. 29 news conference, the woman lives outside Kumamoto Prefecture. She came to the hospital about two weeks ago, and was taken into protective custody after telling them she didn't want her family to know she was going to give birth.

    The hospital has been trying to persuade her to give birth after disclosing her identity, but she has not agreed. Regarding what would happen if she gave birth without revealing her identity, Hasuda said, "The hospital will register the birth with the city, but even at that time, we cannot reveal her identity. We also cannot entrust the baby to a nursing home, so for the time being, the hospital will take care of the child."

    In July 2020, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare responded to a Kumamoto Municipal Government inquiry on confidential births by stating that parents must be informed of their children's right to know their origins and of the significance of disclosing their identity.

    It is possible that a child from a confidential birth could not be on a family register, but the Ministry of Justice has stated it is "difficult to give an answer" regarding how to handle the babies' family registers. Based on the central government's responses, the city government told the hospital in August 2020 that it was difficult to deny the possibility that confidential births could violate the law.

    (Japanese original by Yuki Kurisu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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