Escape Hatch from the Culture of Death
Dr. Hasuda Taiji introduced the life-saving 'baby box' to Japan
A great man has died. Dr. Hasuda Taiji (1936-2020) passed away in late October, leaving behind many iterations around the world of the thing for which he will always be remembered: a hole in the wall.
Dr. Hasuda was an ob-gyn at the Jikei Byōin (“Mercy Hospital”) in Kumamoto, Japan. Jikei Byōin was founded in 1898 by Franciscan nuns caring for leprosy patients, and it remains a Catholic hospital to this day. Dr. Hasuda began working at Jikei Byōin in 1969 and stayed there due to the selfless devotion of the nuns to the sick and suffering. In 1998, Dr. Hasuda was baptized a Catholic. He took as his baptismal name “Francis of Assisi.”
Dr. Hasuda’s life might have been passed in obscurity, just like the nuns and their patients in the leprosy ward, had it not been for something he saw during a visit to Germany in the early 2000s: a “Babyklappe.” The Babyklappe (“baby hatch”) is a modern variant of a medieval innovation allowing women who can no longer care for their babies to place them inside an institution such as a convent or a monastery, to be raised in a loving environment. Today, there are large boxes built into the walls of many German hospitals, and the inside of the box is kept warm and is lined with blankets and pillows. There is a letter inside informing whoever leaves her baby in the box that the child will be cared for. As soon as the door to the hatch is closed, an alarm sounds and the nurses on duty immediately tend to the child.
This “baby box,” a sign of our fallen nature and a tacit recognition that the world is not as it should be, is, for that very reason, universal. There are “baby flaps” throughout Europe and also in China and other countries. Dr. Hasuda knew of cases of abandoned and abused infants in Kumamoto—as well as of the horrific “coin locker baby” phenomenon in Tokyo, where infants were abandoned in coin lockers in subway stations and other public places—and he resolved to set up a Babyklappe at Jikei Byōin, which he did in May of 2007. Dr. Hasuda also wanted to prevent pregnant women from aborting their babies, which is, sadly, an option in Japan. As with every other grouping of humanity, Japan knows its share of heartbreak and impossible choices.
Dr. Hasuda became an outspoken advocate for the Babyklappe, which in Japanese he renamed “Kōnotori no Yurikago” (“Stork Cradle”). The Japanese media rather callously redubbed these lifesaving devices “Akachan Post,” or “Baby Mailboxes,” which shifts the focus of the Babyklappe from the child being saved to the mother, who is portrayed as having slid her infant into a mail slot. This prompted a major debate in Japan over the ethics of the Kōnotori no Yurikago, similar to debates on the devices in other countries: Did the Babyklappe not simply encourage irresponsibility? What kind of a society countenances the wanton abandonment of newborns? In 2007, prime minister Abe Shinzō expressed the sense of the Japanese government when he said that anyone who left their baby in the Stork Cradle had done something “unforgivable.”
Dr. Hasuda was undaunted. He gave speeches on the Kōnotori no Yurikago around the world. He also combined his Kōnotori no Yurikago work with the adoption placement work he had been overseeing since 2002. Dr. Hasuda and his associates operated a 24-hour hotline for at-risk mothers and placed hundreds of children, including those who arrived at the Jikei Byōin via the Kōnotori no Yurikago, into adoptive homes. In 2018, Dr. Hasuda convened the 14th Asian Congress of Health Promotion in Kumamoto, during which he and others from around the world—India, South Korea, Switzerland, China, South Africa, Russia, Latvia, the USA, Poland, and Germany, where it all began—helped to spread word about the saving power of the “baby hatch.”
The culture of death, of which St. John Paul the Great often spoke, can feel all-consuming. Everywhere one turns, it seems, there is sin, suffering, killing, indifference, and glorification of that which can only bring misery and pain. Modernity is often portrayed as a totalizing phenomenon, an event for which there is no horizon, a kind of hell with no outside. The culture of death is the same. It is everywhere, and wherever we go we are in it.
Except in the quiet city of Kumamoto, in far western Japan. There, a group of doctors, nurses, and nuns—once devoted to caring for those other human persons thrown out by modernity, the lepers—waits in the hope of being able to save even one child from the culture of death. Dr. Hasuda’s obituary in one of the major Japanese papers made no mention of his Catholic faith, but it was what made him who he was. It was the love of Christ that compelled him to set up an escape hatch in a world almost entirely given over to darkness.