Tales of baby switch­ing

A truck driver dis­cov­ers he is ac­tu­ally the heir of a wealthy fam­ily.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

THIS year’s Ja­panese drama film, Soshite Chichi Ni Naru (lit­er­ally “Then To Be­come A Fa­ther”) won the Jury Prize at the 66th An­nual Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and other awards. Ti­tled Like Fa­ther, Like Son in English, this heart-rend­ing story ex­plores the re­spec­tive fa­mil­ial bonds of two chil­dren who were ac­ci­den­tally swapped at birth be­cause of the hos­pi­tal’s cler­i­cal er­ror, and raised by fam­i­lies of dif­fer­ing so­cial sta­tuses.

The plot thick­ens when Ry­ota Nonomiya, an af­flu­ent worka­holic ar­chi­tect, learns that the six- year-old son he has raised is not his own when Keita un­der­goes a blood test to be reg­is­tered at a pres­ti­gious pri­mary school.

Some­times, what is shown in movies and TV dra­mas or writ­ten in fic­tion does hap­pen in real life. Af­ter all, life is like a play.

Baby-switch­ing cases are not iso­lated, but the re­cent case whereby it took al­most six decades for a Ja­panese man’s true iden­tity to be re­vealed is shock­ing be­yond words.

Last month, the Tokyo Dis­trict Court or­dered a hos­pi­tal to pay ¥32mil (RM1mil) in dam­ages to a 60-year-old man for the hard­ships he suf­fered, and ¥6mil (RM190,000) to his three bi­o­log­i­cal brothers who dis­cov­ered the truth.

The man had been mis­tak­enly switched at birth in 1953 at the hos­pi­tal. The er­ror set the stage for the un­fold­ing of events akin to those of the clas­sic tale The Prince And The Pau­per.

When the child was two, his non-bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther died. He grew up un­der­priv­i­leged. His “mother” was on wel­fare and had to sup­port her older chil­dren.

Be­fore be­com­ing a truck driver, he stud­ied at a night school while toil­ing in a fac­tory.

The other baby, born 13 min­utes later, be­came the el­dest son of a wealthy fam­ily. He went to univer­sity and now runs a real-es­tate com­pany. His three younger brothers had long no­ticed that he didn’t re­sem­ble them.

Af­ter their par­ents died, they even­tu­ally con­ducted a DNA test which re­vealed that he was un­re­lated to them.

They then checked his hos­pi­tal records and tracked down their real brother last year. As a re­sult, the truck driver and his bi­o­log­i­cal brothers sued the hos­pi­tal.

The plain­tiff had been de­prived of a bet­ter life and the chance to meet his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents.

Due to the dev­as­tat­ing rev­e­la­tion, he ex­pe­ri­enced tremen­dous men­tal an­guish and emo­tional trauma. Nev­er­the­less, his fam­ily reg­is­ter was rec­ti­fied in June, cit­ing him as the el­dest son of his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents.

Un­like Malaysia, Ja­pan does not is­sue birth cer­tifi­cates. My hus­band had to reg­is­ter our son’s birth within 14 days, in his fam­ily reg­is­ter, at the ward of­fice in the area where we re­side.

An of­fi­cial copy of the fam­ily reg­is­ter can be ob­tained for ¥300 (RM9.50) if one needs proof of one’s iden­tity for any of­fi­cial ap­pli­ca­tions. Fam­ily reg­is­ter aside, there are kids and even adults in Ja­pan who still don’t know their blood type. In fact, my Ja­panese friend’s teenage sons only found out their blood type when they did a blood test for blood dona­tion.

Cu­rios­ity and con­cern prompted me to have my son’s blood type checked when Ken was about two years old.

So, when I took Ken to the health­care cen­tre at the ward of­fice and paid a small fee for his blood test, my mother-in-law laugh­ingly com­mented: “Ken has your nose and his fa­ther’s eye­brows. Still, you doubt he’s not your son?”

Any­way, Ken’s blood test re­sult merely showed his blood type and noth­ing re­gard­ing the Rh­e­sus fac­tor. A more de­tailed test for the blood type can be done at a clinic, but it may not be cov­ered by health insurance.

The hos­pi­tal in which Ken was born did not re­quire moth­ers to sleep with their ba­bies then.

Over the years, how­ever, se­cu­rity at ma­ter­nity wards in many hos­pi­tals has be­come tighter.

In one hos­pi­tal, the ma­ter­nity ward’s main door is locked and an in­ter­com is used to con­firm the vis­i­tor’s iden­tity.

A ma­ter­nity ward at a mu­nic­i­pal hos­pi­tal in Yoko­hama has a sen­sor at­tached to a crib be­side the mother’s bed.

The sen­sor beeps if the baby stops breath­ing or is taken out of the crib.

Thus, when­ever the baby is put into the crib or lifted out, the sen­sor must be turned on or off. In re­cent years, the ma­ter­nity ward in that hos­pi­tal has al­lowed visi­ta­tion by the baby’s sib­lings, fa­ther and grand­par­ents only.

I truly feel sorry for the truck driver. He must have wished he could turn back the clock.

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian mar­ried to a Ja­panese, re­sides in Ja­pan.

Pre­cious bun­dle: a nurse show­ing a new­born baby to the par­ents. (Inset) a sen­sor is used to en­sure the safety of a new­born in hos­pi­tal.

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