Italy reinvents wheel to save abandoned babies

ROME (Reuters) - Italy is re-inventing the wheel to save babies from being dumped in garbage bins.

Family Affairs Minister Rosy Bindi says she wants every hospital in Italy to have a modern-day version of the medieval “foundling wheel” where unwanted newborns were left at convents.

Over the weekend, a baby was abandoned in a high-tech hatch installed recently in a hospital in a poorer neighborhood on Rome’s southern outskirts.

The person who left the child entered a room accessible only from the outside, pushed open a glass hatch, and deposited the baby in a heated crib in a room on the inside.

Electronic sensors detected movement in the crib and set off an alarm for doctors at the Casilino hospital, who arrived in 40 seconds and cared for the baby boy, whom they named Stefano.

Medieval foundling wheels were wooden cylinders set in the wall of a convent or church. The baby was placed in the cylinder from the outside and the cylinder was turned toward the inside, where nuns would care for the baby and seek new parents.

Hardly a month goes by without a news report about a newborn found abandoned at the side of the road or, more commonly, in a garbage bin on a city street. The lucky ones are found alive.

“I hope the mother of the baby boy left in the Casilino hospital will find the hope and courage to reconsider. If she needs help, we will help her find it,” said Bindi.

“In any case, this difficult and painful decision took place in a safe environment and that in itself is something good ... a good alternative to abandoning a baby on the street.”

Bindi said she would talk to Health Minister Livia Turco about making a baby hatch available “in every maternity ward”.

The Casilino Hospital, located in an area where many immigrants live, had pasted posters with the appeal “Don’t abandon your baby - leave it with us” in six languages, including Chinese and Romanian.

The poster shows two loving hands holding a newborn. A hospital in the northern city of Bergamo has begun a similar initiative to that in Rome.

While some of the abandoned babies were children of immigrants, having a child out of wedlock still carries a stigma in Catholic Italy and some babies, particularly in the south, are believed to have had Italian parents.

The first foundling wheel was believed to have been installed in Rome in 1198 at the orders of Pope Innocent III who was alarmed at the number of newborns, usually illegitimate, found caught in the nets of fishermen on the River Tiber. Dictator Benito Mussolini officially abolished them in 1923.