Records show prejudice behind sterilization of disabled people

Asahi Shimbun

January 16th 2018

Doctors were unemotional, unsympathetic and often discriminatory in describing disabled and other individuals chosen for forced sterilization under a now-defunct eugenics law, documents showed.

Released for the first time, archived records show not only how patients were screened for the operations but also how authorities pried into family histories to help determine if certain people should be denied the right to reproduce.

Thousands of people with hereditary diseases, mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities were sterilized across Japan between 1949 and 1992 under the Eugenic Protection Law aimed at “preventing the birth of inferior offspring.”

Approval of the person to be sterilized was not required.

The documents uncovered at the Kanagawa Prefectural Archives refer to 82 cases of surgery: 38 in fiscal 1962, 34 in fiscal 1963 and 10 in fiscal 1970. Some are applications for the operations that were submitted to the Kanagawa Prefectural Eugenic Protection Commission, including doctors’ comments. Others are breakdowns of the surgical expenses.

“I was astonished to learn that people’s reproductive functions were removed so matter-of-factly, in violation of their human rights, on the basis of discriminatory and prejudiced ideas,” said Keiko Toshimitsu, a visiting researcher with Ritsumeikan University’s Research Center for Ars Vivendi, who discovered and analyzed the documents.

The findings were presented at a meeting of the Japan Society for Disability Studies in Kobe in October.

The applications and examination records contain descriptions of growth histories and symptoms, as well as family tree diagrams showing diseases and occupations of relatives across many generations.

An application form for surgery on an intellectually disabled teenager said she “cannot even clean up after her menses” and “remains seated all day and keeps playing like an infant but sometimes gets excited and engages in rough acts.”

Another document showed that a decision was made to sterilize a man who was “hardworking and had good grades” but had developed schizophrenia six months prior.

In an additional comment, a doctor, citing the views of the man’s family, said “his parents are feeble, so surgery is desired for considerations of the future,” and that the man “likely lacks the ability to raise a child.”

The law only approved sterilization methods that involved the ligation of uterine tubes or deferent ducts and other processes.

The surgical expenses reports, however, showed there was at least one case in which ovaries were removed.

Yasutaka Ichinokawa, a University of Tokyo graduate school professor of the sociology of health care, said those involved possibly believed that the operations were for the good of the patients, given that no sufficient support was available to help disabled people raise children.

“The records have demonstrated that social reasons can be linked to a eugenic policy,” Ichinokawa said. “There is a need to approach those who were sterilized and those who were involved in the process to help find out what was taking place.”

Under the Eugenic Protection Law, which took effect in 1948, around 16,500 people were forcibly sterilized by 1992, according to Eugenic Protection Statistics and other sources.

The law was renamed the Maternal Health Law when eugenics provisions were deleted in 1996.

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