Japan hospital tests first "baby hatch"

Updated: 2007-05-01 17:14
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Japan's first "baby hatch", where mothers can drop off babies they can't care for, completed a test-run on Tuesday with a doll, clearing the way for the controversial facility to start operating in about a week.

Jikei Hospital in the southwestern city of Kumamoto, which has links with the Catholic church, has built an incubator-like hatch with access from the outside of the building to allow babies to be dropped off safely and anonymously.

Hospital staff hope the hatch, nicknamed the "cradle of storks", will protect the lives of abandoned babies. The system is already in use in Germany and a similar facility opened in Italy recently.

But critics say the scheme may encourage people to leave their babies, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been quoted as saying he opposes the idea of creating a system where parents can abandon a child anonymously.

In the test run, hospital staff were notified by an alarm, a blinking light and a video image when a baby doll was placed inside the hatch. Nurses then went to the hatch to retrieve the baby.

Abortion is widely accepted in Japan, but there are cases of infants being abandoned.

Yukiko Tajiri, head of the nursing section, said the hospital aimed to have the facility in operation around next Thursday at the earliest.

"We will encourage people to the very end to consult so that (abandoning a baby) doesn't happen," Tajiri said on the controversy and concern of cabinet ministers that the hatch will encourage people to abandon their babies.

Any babies left in the hatch will be handed over to children's homes if their parents do not come forward.