KUMAMOTO -- The Japanese government on Sept. 30 released a set of guidelines regarding so-called "confidential births" that allow women with unwanted pregnancies to give birth after revealing their identities to hospital staff alone. However, there remain a host of unresolved issues.
The guidelines specify the retention of information to identify women who use the system and the process to create family registers of children born by way of confidential birth. But the question of when and how to disclose the mother's identity -- information that is crucial in guaranteeing children's right to know their origins -- is left to the discretion of medical institutions.
The guidelines also fail to specify how to hand over information to other medical institutions in the event the lives of the mother and child are in danger during such births.
There are no domestic laws pertaining to confidential births, and the system has only been in place at Jikei Hospital in the city of Kumamoto since December 2019. The new guidelines basically follow efforts forged so far by the hospital and the Kumamoto Municipal Government, paving the way for other medical institutions across Japan to adopt a similar system.
Jikei Hospital launched its confidential birth service to curb instances of mothers abandoning their children or even taking their lives due to isolation from society, while developing an environment for women to give birth safely.
The new guidelines say they are not designed to promote confidential births, and detailed matters have been left up to each medical institution. Unless acceptance of confidential births spreads at medical institutions across Japan, however, it may be difficult to reduce the number of cases ending in tragedy for desperate mothers and their children.
The Japanese government has consistently been reluctant to introduce laws providing for confidential births, insisting that such births can be dealt with under existing laws. But professor Yasunori Kashiwagi at Chiba Keizai College, who is versed in German laws on confidential births, which Jikei Hospital referred to, pointed out, "The guidelines do not clearly specify the national government's responsibility. Discussions, including those on legislation requiring public agencies to preserve information identifying mothers, need to continue."
Meanwhile, there are compelling calls for system improvements from among women who have no choice but to resort to confidential births, and children seeking information on their own roots. The national government is urged to step up efforts toward creating better institutional arrangements by continuing to listen to the voices of those at medical institutions and local governments, instead of going no further than formulating the guidelines.
(Japanese original by Yuki Kurisu, Kumamoto Bureau)