05/17/2007, 00.00
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The “stork’s nest”, a Catholic hospital initiative

by Pino Cazzaniga
It’s an incubator where new born babies can be left without the parents being seen. But on the first day a three year old child was deposited. Controversy from certain quarters which maintain the State should take charge of childcare issues.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – It has been named “the storks nest”, the incubator which allows parents to leave new born babies without being seen.  Operative since May 10th in Jikei Catholic hospital in the city of Kumamoto (Kyushu) the “nest” (see photo) is accessed from outside through a small door measuring 45 centimetres by 60: once the bundle has been deposited, personnel from the paediatric ward averted by a signal, withdraw the baby and attend its needs.

This initiative, the first of its kind in Japan, has been subject to criticism, above all from the central government who sees it as encouraging the abandonment of new born babies.  In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that he wants “parents to consult the government and local authorities before they decide to give up their child”, and Yasushisa Shiozaki, cabinet secretary general commented: “Fundamentally parents must raise their new born”, adding that “It is the governments duty to offer some help to those parents who for some reason find themselves unable to care for the child”.

What has given rise to these controversies was the shocking find of a three year old boy in the “nest” the very day of its inauguration.  

Public opinion however seems to be of a different mind.  The day it was opened the hospital was overwhelmed by telephone calls applauding the initiative and enquiring as to the treatment of the new born babies.   The “stork’s nest” is in fact only a part of a broader childcare programme.  The hospital has formed a special staff team set to intervene not only in emergency cases but who will also follow adoption or foster cases.  

The driving force behind the initiative is the hospital director, Taiji Hasuda. Convinced of the need and benefit of such a project, he carefully prepared the programme inspired by an analogous one in Germany.  Once he had received backing from the local authorities he pushed ahead with it.   In an interview given on the day the project was launched he said he was joyful but at the same time anxious. “I would hope that this structure will eventually develop into a consultancy centre”.  In fact beside the small window an intercom has been installed for inquiries and a childcare pamphlet has also been carefully prepared, listing existing consultancies.  “I am well aware – he added – that there are those for and against this programme.  But saving the lives of new born babies is far more important”.

Kumamoto mayor, Seishi Koyama, who authorized the programme told a press conference that the city is prepared to cooperate fully with the hospital in the initiative, adding however that “Japanese society should aim to reach a state where structure such as “the storks nest” are no longer necessary”.

Further heightening discussion around the project was the discovery of a three year old boy in the “nest”, three hours after it was declared operative.

There were no identifying documents on the child.  He told of how he was brought to the hospital by his father after a journey on the “bullet train”.  Hospital authorities, who have informed the police, did not immediately make the story public, in attempts to protect the rights of the child.   But journalists had no such qualms.  The news has further divided public opinion.

Dr. Hasuda has refused to comment on the issue, which would undermine the professional code of conduct.   Mayor Koyama has declared that the city government has not changed its position regarding the initiative, but has underlined that parents with difficulties must first and foremost turn to public advice centres.

Severe judgements regarding the parent’s irresponsibility along with criticism of the project have arrived from the central government; “This situation is highly upsetting” said cabinet secretary, Shiozaki, and public health minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, has defined the parent’s abandonment of their three year old child as “unforgivable”. 

But the daily paper Asahi has underlined that Kumamoto’s Jikei hospital first starter the “stork’s nest” to save the life of new born babes and to dissuade pregnant women from opting for abortion.  Professor Shiro Takahashi of Misei University wrote: “If we are really talking about protecting the life of the new born, then we must admit that the “Stork’s nest” initiative is the right approach.   But in so far as this case is not about a new born, then the public’s concern is justified.  I am not against the project, but I do feel that we as a society must create a childcare support system for parents”.


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