March 15th 2018
Records that identify people forcibly sterilized under the former Eugenic Protection Law only exist for around 20 percent of the patients who underwent the surgeries. An investigation by the Yomiuri Shimbun indicated that many of the records had already been discarded, making it clear that the truth of the situation would be difficult to ascertain.
“Her intellectual age is 2 years and 6 months, and there is a great risk that she will become the target of perverts.”
According to a document found in the Hiroshima Prefectural Archives, a doctor wrote the above reason for why he recommended forced sterilization for a 13-year-old girl with intellectual disabilities in 1962. A prefectural government panel charged with deciding whether sterilization surgery was necessary concluded that it was “appropriate” in the case of this girl.
The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey on every prefecture in the country and submitted disclosure of information requests, receiving copies of a number of archived records. In the 157 pages of documentation received from the Hiroshima archives, the reasons for recommending surgery for 21 persons, including this girl, are written about in detail.
Furthermore, in documentation obtained from Shiga and Fukuoka prefectures, the records show that in some cases a prefectural panel wasn’t even convened, and one member took the document around to other members to sign off on their approval for surgery.
In 1953, regarding the panels, the former Health and Welfare Ministry notified all prefectures, “Panel members must actually meet, and it is not appropriate to simply pass forms around.” But this still happened despite the notification.
From the documents that were disclosed, including request forms for sterilization surgery from doctors, records of panel meetings and notifications of approval or rejection of surgery, a picture begins to form of the situation at the time. However, some local authorities claimed at first that they had no records, and then later said that they had found them, leaving open the possibility that there are many records that have not yet come to light.
Although there is a dearth of records from the era, the response of local governments to people whose surgeries are not documented has varied.
Miyagi Prefecture considered how to respond to a woman in her 70s who had no official record of her surgery and was considering a lawsuit. It decided to acknowledge forced sterilization in cases where (1) the person has a scar from surgery; (2) they were living in the prefecture at the time; (3) there are documents supporting the conjecture of sterilization; and (4) the person’s own testimony is consistent.
Other local governments also have expressed a variety of opinions.
“It’s becoming a problem that there is no consistency in the standards of how local governments acknowledge a person’s forced sterilization. The central government should decide on a policy at an early date” was a response from Okayama Prefecture.
“We will keep an eye on the litigation and remedial actions offered by the central government and decide on our response” was heard from Saitama Prefecture.
In January of this year, the woman in Miyagi Prefecture filed the first lawsuit of its kind in the Sendai District Court. Calls for lawsuits that demand compensation from the central government are growing. However, more than 20 years have passed since the old law was revised in 1996, raising several questions, such as whether the 20-year statute of limitations for compensation demands set by the Civil Code will apply, and how to verify the sterilization of people who have no official documentation of their surgery.
Since the people who underwent forced sterilization and their families are of advanced age, there are also calls to solve the situation through legislation instead of litigation.
The central government has been reluctant to investigate the situation on the grounds that the sterilizations were legal at the time. However, rather than leaving it to local governments to deal with, the central government should first instruct local governments to conduct a thorough investigation, and start to consider how to deal with people who have no records of their sterilization.
Yasutaka Ichinokawa, a professor at the University of Tokyo who is knowledgeable about the former Eugenic Protection Law, said, “There is a precedent in Sweden that offers a point of reference.”
Sweden allowed forced sterilization until the mid-1970s, but in 1997, the government conducted an investigation into the facts of forced sterilization and formed a committee to look into the question of compensation. In 1999, a compensation law was established, and victims were given compensation.
“Litigation takes too long. The Diet must take the initiative and pass a law granting compensation at an early date,” Ichinokawa said. “The government should also be flexible about recognizing people who don’t have official documentation of their sterilization, based on their surgical scars and their own testimony,” he said.
Considering that this discriminatory law existed for so long without revision, it apparently wasn’t just the attitude of the central and local governments that caused the problem, but also the indifference of society as a whole. In order to prevent such injustice from happening again, it is necessary to gather as much evidence as possible from documents of the time, as well as from the testimony of people who underwent forced sterilization, and conduct a thorough investigation of the problem.
- (From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 6, 2018)