Health ministry official strongly questioned eugenics law 23 years before revision

From The Mainichi

June 4th 2018

TOKYO — A senior central government official in charge of public health strongly questioned in 1973 the purported hereditary nature of illnesses that were used as reasons to perform forced sterilization operations under the now-defunct eugenics protection law, according to a journal published by the Japan Medical Association (JMA) in 1974.

The late official, Shunichi Kakurai, who headed the then Health and Welfare Ministry’s public health bureau, also asserted that the law’s provision that allowed forced sterilization operations as “necessary for public good” was “very problematic.”

The latest findings by the Mainichi Shimbun investigation show that the state allowed those operations to continue although it had questions about the law’s foundation more than 20 years before its revision in 1996.

Government statistics indicate that 90 percent of forced sterilization operations were conducted on 14,566 people because of hereditary diseases Experts who are familiar with issues surrounding forced sterilizations were surprised by the remark by the public health official, and are seeking a thorough investigation into the matter.

Kakurai made the remark in question as a lecturer at a seminar for eugenics protection law instructors organized by the Japan Medical Association in September 1973. The seminar was part of a series of training sessions designed to teach ob-gyn physicians who were to become “designated doctors” under the old law. The content of the lecture was published in the July 1974 issue of a JMA publication.

Kakurai, who started off his lecture by saying his comment would be “just a matter of common sense,” listed up problems of the eugenics protection law. Regarding diseases for which the law allowed forced sterilization operations, Kakurai said that illnesses such as “mental disease” or “mental retardation,” which were listed with other conditions in the law’s appendix, “were not confirmed as hereditary by the established uniform medical view.” He added that “it would be extremely difficult to determine the hereditary nature” of those conditions.

The number of forced sterilization operations on the grounds of hereditary illnesses fell from 184 in 1972 to 78 in 1973, plunging to a double-digit figure for the first time. A total of 405 people received such operations from the time of Kakurai’s remark to 1989 when the operations ceased, apparently due to a decrease in applications from doctors.

The old eugenics protection law, which was in force from 1948 to 1996, listed 30 conditions in five categories, such as “hereditary mental disease” and “hereditary mental retardation,” as targets of state-funded forced sterilization operations. The law even made it obligatory for doctors to apply for operations when they confirmed the listed conditions and determined that the operations were “necessary for public good.”

Professor Yasutaka Ichinokawa of the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences specializing in medical sociology said that it is “egregious if the state had allowed those operations to continue while questioning the foundation of the law.”

Professor Yoko Matsubara of Ritsumeikan University Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, who specializes in life ethics, said, “A thorough investigation is necessary to examine how the official’s awareness of the problem was treated within the ministry following his remark.”

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