Fukushima finds records of sterilizations performed under eugenic law

Kyodo via The Japan Times

February 6th 2018

The Fukushima prefectural government said Tuesday it has found a list of names of 120 people who underwent sterilization under the eugenic protection law that existed for decades until 1996, bringing the total number of such records identified to 2,845 across 21 prefectures.

Under the now-defunct law, 24,991 had their reproductive capacity removed due to mental or other diseases — including 16,475 without consent — according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which cited government reports.

The Fukushima prefectural government had earlier told Kyodo News it held no such records but said Tuesday it had found the documents listing the names, ages and illnesses of 33 men and 87 women, of whom 68 were under 20 years old.

The documents included applications for surgeries and notices about the operations. All of the 120 are believed to have undergone sterilization without consent.

A woman in her 60s in Miyagi Prefecture sued the state last month in relation to procedures performed under the eugenic protection law, seeking ¥11 million ($101,000) in damages over her forced sterilization when she was a teenager on grounds of mental disability.

It was the first such suit over forced sterilizations in Japan. Filing the suit with the Sendai District Court, the plaintiff said the state failed to legislate for relief measures despite the serious human rights infringement.

The women also claimed the 1948 law denied human equality and the right to pursue happiness, and was therefore unconstitutional.

Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi has said the Hokkaido government holds similar data on 841 people who underwent sterilization surgery and that it will disclose the data by mid-February.

The central government has not apologized or provided compensation to the around 25,000 people, saying the procedures were legal at the time. The government says many records of forced sterilizations have been discarded by government offices.

In 2016, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that Japan adopt “specific measures aimed at providing all victims of forced sterilizations with assistance to access legal remedies and provide them with compensation and rehabilitative services.”

The eugenics protection law authorized the sterilization of people with mental disabilities and illness or hereditary disorders, to prevent births of “inferior” offspring. It also allowed for forcible abortions.

The legislation, which paralleled a similar law in Nazi Germany, was scrapped in 1996 and replaced by the maternal protection law on abortions. Germany and Sweden had similar eugenics laws and the governments there have apologized and paid compensation to the victims.

Victims of the Eugenics Law

Japan Times Editorial

3rd February 2018

A damages lawsuit filed by a woman forcibly sterilized under the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law should prompt the government to quickly review what happened to the thousands of people who were subjected to such operations, clarify its responsibility for their plight and acknowledge where it erred under the policy. It should then consider remedial steps to those whose rights were infringed through the forced sterilization.

The suit — the first of its kind seeking state redress concerning the 1948 law — was filed Tuesday by a woman in her 60s from Miyagi Prefecture, who charges that the government committed a serious violation of her human rights by making it impossible for her to give birth to and raise children. On the basis of diagnosis by a local hospital in 1972 — when the woman was 15 — that she was suffering from serious hereditary mental retardation, the prefectural eugenic protection review board determined that she had to undergo sterilization.

The surgery was carried out with no explanation given by the doctor to her. Afterward, the woman complained regularly of stomach pains. She has been unable to marry due to the sterilization as well as the loss of a right ovary in an operation for malignant cystoma.

The woman accuses the government of violating the Constitution — which says that all people shall be respected as individuals and guaranteed the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness — by forcing sterilization on her and is calling for ¥11 million in damages.

Forced sterilization under eugenics programs was instituted in some countries in the early part of the 20th century. Against the backdrop of Japan’s rapid population growth right after the war, the Eugenic Protection Law was put into force in 1948 with the aim of preventing births of eugenically inferior offspring. It allowed doctors to carry out sterilization of people who had mental disabilities or illnesses and hereditary diseases even without their and their relatives’ consent if the doctors determined that such sterilization was necessary for the public interest and if the local review panel approved their opinion. A Health and Welfare Ministry notice in 1953 said that sterilization surgery approved by a eugenics protection review board could be carried out even if the subjects of the operation opposed it — allowing for the use of physical restraints, anesthesia and deception to get them to accept the surgery.

According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, sterilization surgeries under the law were carried out on some 25,000 people — about 16,500 of which without the consent of those who underwent the procedure.

As criticism mounted that it discriminated against people with disabilities, the law was revised into the Maternal Protection Law in 1996 by eliminating the discriminatory clauses, including the provision for forced sterilization.

Calls have grown since around 2000 for the government to take remedial measures toward the people subjected to forced sterilization. The issue of compensation for them was taken up in the Diet, and the bar federation called on the government to look into detailed facts related to the issue and offer damages to the victims. The government, however, has been slow to respond. It has refused either to look into what had taken place under the law or offer an apology, saying that the forced sterilization was legal while the Eugenic Protection Law was in effect.

The government’s position is in stark contrast to the actions taken by Sweden and Germany. After such laws were abolished in those countries, officials examined what transpired, offered apologies and paid compensation to the victims by taking the necessary legal steps.

The government should be reminded of the Kumamoto District Court’s 2001 ruling that the Leprosy Prevention Law, which forcefully separated Hansen’s disease patients from families and communities and confined them for life in sanatoriums, was unconstitutional, and ordered the state to pay compensation to victims under the State Redress Law. The leprosy law had been abolished in 1996 and the government did not appeal the ruling. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and both houses of the Diet issued apologies, and legislation to pay damages to the former patients soon took effect. In this connection, it must be noted that sterilization was performed on Hansen’s disease patients under the Eugenic Protection Law.

The eugenics law caused deep scars on large numbers of people for nearly half a century. Many local authorities have destroyed records of sterilization surgeries performed under the law and many of the victims and their relatives who can testify are aging and dying. The government should move quickly to establish the facts about the situation and take remedial action.

Eugenic ideas that certain types of people don’t deserve to live have not died out. In 2016, the nation was shocked by the murders of 19 residents of a welfare facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture — committed by a former staffer at the facility who reportedly claimed that people with serious disabilities should be eliminated because they only create unhappiness. Helping to prevent such ideas from having an influence on society is all the more reason for taking quick action on the forced sterilization issue.

Girls aged just 9 among hundreds of minors forced to be sterilized

The Asahi

February 1st 2018

SENDAI–Girls as young as 9 diagnosed with intellectual disabilities underwent forced sterilization under a postwar law aimed at “preventing the birth of inferior offspring.”

Records kept by the Miyagi prefectural government for fiscal 1963 through 1981 show that 859 local residents were sterilized under the provisions of the old Eugenic Protection Law. Of that figure, 448 were minors.

For the full period when the law came into effect in 1948 through 1996, when it was renamed the Maternal Health Law, 1,406 residents of Miyagi Prefecture were forced to submit to sterilization.

The list includes the names, ages and reasons for the sterilization. Local authorities kept the records to ensure the central government covered the expenses for the procedures.

Boys as young as 10 were sterilized on two occasions, in fiscal 1965 and 1967, while two girls aged nine were sterilized in fiscal 1963 and 1974.

Yasutaka Ichinokawa, a sociology professor at the University of Tokyo who is knowledgeable about the issue, said, “Despite the fact that the old Eugenic Protection Law did not have provisions setting an age limit, I am very surprised that girls as young as 9 were forced to undergo sterilization.”

Of the 859 individuals, 320 were male and 535 were female. The gender and age of four individuals were not included. Among the males, 191 were minors. Among the females, 257 were minors.

In total, 745 individuals were listed as having genetic intellectual disabilities.

According to a citizens group seeking an apology from the government, 16,500 or so individuals across Japan underwent forced sterilization.

For the bulk of the patients, however, details such as age, gender and reason for the procedure have not been disclosed.

Hokkaido had the most forced sterilizations at 2,593, while Miyagi Prefecture had the second largest number.

A woman in her 60s who was sterilized at 15 filed the first challenge to the constitutionality of the Eugenic Protection Law at the Sendai District Court on Jan. 30. She is seeking 11 million yen ($101,000) in compensation.

A group supporting her efforts has called on the government to establish a fund to provide compensation and fully disclose details of the forced sterilization program.

However, at a Jan. 30 news conference, Katsunobu Kato, the welfare minister, said, “We have heard directly from those who were affected based on their requests and we will continue to listen if such requests are made in the future.”

He stopped short of promising a more extensive study.

Lawyers set up hotlines for victims of 1948-1996 eugenics law

Kyodo reprinted in The Japan Times

SENDAI – Lawyers in five cities set up telephone counseling hotlines Friday for individuals who were forced into sterilization or affected by the Eugenic Protection Law to gauge the effect that the now-defunct act has had nationwide.

Volunteer lawyers based in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka received 10 calls from those who underwent surgery and their families.

The Eugenic Protection Law, enacted in 1948 and scrapped in 1996, legalized the sterilization of people with intellectually disabilities or mental illness without their consent.

Soon after the hotline opened at the Sendai Bar Association office, lawyers received a call from a man saying he “had the operation in his teens,” and listened carefully to his account while taking notes.

Koji Niisato, a lawyer involved in a lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking damages for victims of the Eugenic Protection Law from the Japanese government, said “having victims come forward would be a huge step toward granting a legal remedy. We ask for those affected to call and talk to us.”

A woman in her 60s who had been forced to undergo sterilization due to an intellectual disability filed the lawsuit at the Sendai District Court, becoming the first in Japan to do so.

According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, some 25,000 people with disabilities nationwide received sterilization operations under the former law. Of all the sterilizations conducted, about 16,500 surgeries were reportedly conducted without consent.

From Saturday 3rd February 2018, lawyers involved with the legal suit will be available for counseling at 022-397-7960.

Woman sues Japanese government over forced sterilization as a teen

From Reuters

January 30th 2018

(Reuters) – A Japanese woman who was forcibly sterilized as a teenager due to intellectual disabilities sued the government on Tuesday in the first case of its kind, seeking compensation because her basic human rights had been trampled on.

Under Japan’s eugenics protection law, in force from 1948 to 1996, about 25,000 people were sterilized due to mental or genetic illnesses, Japanese media said. They included leprosy sufferers and some with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

About 16,500 of them are believed to have had the surgery without their consent.

The 60-year-old who sued had developed mental problems following surgery for a cleft palate as an infant and was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at 15, after which she was forcibly sterilized, media said, quoting court documents.

As the result of side-effects she later had to have her ovaries removed. Subsequently, marriage talks were broken off as a result of her inability to have children.

No further details were given, including the woman’s name.

“Thanks to the law, my sister has really suffered, living her life hidden away,” the woman’s sister told a news conference.

“We wanted to stand up and build a society where even people with disabilities can have a happy life.”

The woman seeks compensation of 11 million yen ($101,149), saying the government should have set up relief measures for those subjected to the surgery, in recompense for violating their human rights.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato declined to comment, telling reporters he did not know the details of the case, but his ministry would investigate.

People with disabilities have long suffered shame and stigma in Japan, although anti-discrimination efforts have gathered pace since a law took effect in 2016.

That July, however, Japan was forced to confront its attitudes after a man went on a stabbing spree at a facility for disabled people near Tokyo, killing 19 as they slept and wounding 26. He had previously threatened to “obliterate” disabled people.

Almost nothing about the victims was disclosed except for gender and age, mainly at the request of their families.

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.

Miyagi woman to sue Japanese government over forced sterilization under now-defunct eugenics law

From Jiji Press & Kyodo reprinted in The Japan Times

December 4th 2017

SENDAI – A woman in her 60s will sue the government for being forced to undergo sterilization on the grounds of her intellectual disability, according to informed sources.

The Miyagi Prefecture resident plans to file with the Sendai District Court in January at the earliest. She will claim the state infringed on her human rights through sterilization permitted by the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law, the sources said Sunday.

The lawsuit will be the first filed against the government over forced sterilization, said Koji Niisato, an attorney representing the woman.

The woman’s relatives said the plaintiff underwent sterilization when she was 15. She has no memory of agreeing to the operation and documents obtained from the Miyagi Prefectural Government suggest the operation was forced on her.

The woman has had a marriage proposal turned down because of her infertility. She plans to claim she was deprived of both the freedom to give birth and the right to self-determination, part of Japan’s constitutionally guaranteed right to pursue happiness. Additionally, she will say her dignity as an individual, also assured under the supreme law, was infringed upon. The amount of damages to be sought is yet to be decided.

In Japan, sterilization of patients with genetic disorders, intellectual disabilities and leprosy was allowed under the former law.

According to a statement by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the number of sterilization operations conducted across the country under the law reached some 25,000.

In 1996, the law was amended into the Maternal Body Protection Law after the elimination of discriminatory clauses.

The woman’s attorneys are planning to launch a telephone consultation service for people who have gone through similar circumstances, with the possibility of filing a group lawsuit under consideration.