Tales of baby switching


  • Living
  • Sunday, 08 Dec 2013

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

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.

A sensor is used to ensure the safety of a newborn in hospital.

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.

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