April 11th 2019
Victims of a eugenics program are unsatisfied with a relief bill to compensate thousands of people forcibly sterilized under a 1948 law designed to “prevent births of inferior children.”
A proposal to provide lump-sum payments of 3.2 million yen ($28,800) for each victim was approved by the Lower House Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on April 10.
The bill was approved during a plenary session of the Lower House on April 11 and is expected to be adopted by the Upper House later this month. The legislation is expected to go into force by early May.
Victims must apply for the relief measure and will receive compensation if they are recognized as having been forcibly sterilized. For those without medical records of their surgeries, authorities will listen to their accounts and determine if they are eligible for the payment.
About 25,000 people were sterilized with or without their consent through surgery or other means because they had physical, intellectual or mental disabilities under the Eugenic Protection law.
The law was abolished in 1996.
The relief bill was compiled by the ruling coalition’s working group and a nonpartisan group of lawmakers.
At the committee session on April 10, Tsutomu Tomioka, chairman of the committee, underlined the significance of the bill, citing its preamble, which states: “We, in our respective positions, deeply apologize to the victims and earnestly search our souls over the great distress they endured from being forced to undergo surgery or being irradiated, which left them unable to reproduce.”
Noting criticism that it is not clear who “We” represents, Tomioka said, “It is meant to suggest the Diet that passed the Eugenic Protection Law and the government that enforced the law.”
But the preamble was worded in a cautious manner so it would not be directly linked to the question of the eugenics program’s unconstitutionality, an attempt to avoid ramifications on a string of damages suits brought against the government by victims across the nation.
Tomita made no mention of whether the program was unconstitutional when explaining the bill.
Twenty victims are demanding compensation in lawsuits being fought at seven district courts.
The ruling in the first lawsuit is scheduled to be handed down on May 28 at the Sendai District Court in Miyagi Prefecture.
A group of lawyers representing plaintiffs moved swiftly on April 10 to voice skepticism that the proposed legislation would resolve all their clients’ issues.
“It is questionable whether victims can achieve recovery with the proposed bill,” the group said in a statement.
The lawyers cited three main problems with the bill: The state does not directly apologize in the bill; the lump-sum payment is too small; and victims’ spouses and relatives are not eligible to receive relief.
The statement also said the group will call for a review of the legislation, depending on the content of the Sendai District Court’s decision.
In what was regarded as an unusual move, the presiding judge in the Sendai case said in a previous court proceeding that he would not shy away from deciding if the Eugenic Protection Law was constitutional.
The plaintiffs’ side argues that the government and the Diet were both accountable due to their failure to act.
They say the government let unconstitutional forcible sterilization procedures continue to be performed over the years, while lawmakers failed to write a law to provide redress to victims.
The 3.2 million yen in compensation is less than one-10th of the sum demanded by two plaintiffs in the Sendai case, a woman in her 60s who was sterilized at 15, and a woman in her 70s who underwent the same procedure at 16.
If the district court sides with the plaintiffs, the government may appeal the ruling, citing the relief law. That would mean victims will be denied an early resolution of their grievances.
The plaintiff in her 70s said it is essential that the government offer a clear apology.
“I want the apology to be offered under the name of the government,” said the woman, who has been asking for the apology and compensation for over 20 years. “Money alone won’t help me regain my life.”