How-tos | LIFELINES

Teens' reproductive health rights are at doctors' whim

by Louise George Kittaka

Special To The Japan Times

This week’s Lifelines deals with some important questions from a high school student about her rights regarding reproductive health care. She writes:

I just want to share my experience at a Japanese clinic. I went to a nearby Japanese ob-gyn clinic by myself and the clinic wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t with my parents. Why can’t I go to the gynecologist by myself? Is that the law in Japan? I want to get tested for STDs and have access to contraceptives pills but I can’t.

Also, I recently went to the family doctor and got tested for cystitis (an infection of the bladder, common among women). I told the clinic I’d had sex, as maybe it was the cause of my cystitis. I asked the clinic not to tell my parents, but they called them. Where’s my privacy? I know I’m only in my mid-teens, but I have rights.

I talked to Dr. Kunio Kitamura, a gynecologist who is well-known for his work educating adolescents about reproductive health care and contraception. Kitamura is the chairperson of the Japan Family Planning Association and operates a clinic in Tokyo. He also runs an informative website through the JFPA and writes about sex education and reproductive health care in the media.

Surprisingly for a country where so many things are governed by rules, Kitamura says that Japan has no laws regarding age limits or parental consent when it comes to advice on reproductive health care and obtaining contraception.

“To this end, the staff at the clinics visited by your reader did her a great disservice. As a doctor, I’m upset that she met with this treatment,” he says. “She was trying to take responsibility for her own health, and deserves respect and privacy. Young people should not be belittled in this way. Furthermore, calling the parents and telling them about their daughter’s visit was wrong in this case.”

Kitamura admits that not all doctors and parents would agree.

“Certainly, some doctors take a paternalistic attitude, and think it is best to involve a parent in the case of a minor patient,” he adds.

Kitamura’s clinic is familiar with calls from upset or angry parents — usually mothers — who find an appointment card or receipt for contraceptives in their daughter’s room.

“Even if they call and demand information, I always tell them we can’t divulge patient information over the phone,” Kitamura says. “I tell them to start by asking their daughter and trying to talk openly with her.”

The JFPA’s clinic and its various outreach programs are working to educate adolescents, but Kitamura says that parents should ideally be the primary source of information for young people about their bodies and sexual health.

“From a young age, children deserve to be given the correct facts,” he says.

While many of the patients who visit Kitamura’s clinic are teenagers who come in alone, the clinic also welcomes adult patients, as well as parents and children together. With the number of single-parent families rising, Kitamura notes that they are now seeing fathers wanting to get help with raising daughters, too.

The JFPA clinic is located near Ichigaya Station and operates on an appointment-only basis. Kitamura invites foreign residents to take advantage of the services offered, and says consultations can be conducted in English. The JFPA also operates a telephone hotline for young people wanting answers to their questions.

Japan Family Planning Association: www.jfpa-clinic.org or call 03-3235-2694. JFPA hotline for advice on adolescence and contraception: 03-3235-2638. Thank you to Sara at Japan Healthcare Info for her help with this article. JHI (www.japanhealthinfo.com) is a nonprofit, social entrepreneur corporation providing services in English for the foreign community about health care and the Japanese medical system. Send your comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.