Photo/IllutrationA booklet compiled in 1956 by the Hokkaido government and a prefectural eugenics protection commission says the number of forced sterilization surgeries exceeded 1,000, by far the most in the nation. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The realities of forced sterilization surgery, conducted on certain citizens under the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law of 1948, are coming to light.

For the stated purpose of “preventing the birth of inferior offspring,” the law targeted individuals with genetic disorders and mental disabilities, among others.

According to statistics, more than 16,000 males and females were surgically sterilized without their consent. The policy represents a gross violation of human rights, and the government must immediately look into the matter and make restitutions to the victims.

In January, a woman in her 60s became the first in the nation to sue the government over the law, demanding an apology and damages in the suit filed with the Sendai District Court.

The woman, who has mental disabilities, was 15 years old when she was forced to have her fallopian tubes tied at a hospital. She developed post-surgery abdominal pains, which led to the removal of her ovaries.

Her attorney denounced the eugenics law for “violating her right to self-determination in the matter of childbirth in disregard of fundamental human rights.”

The lawsuit raises a grave issue. It asked why the government failed to establish a system to compensate individuals like the plaintiff. The government must address this matter with utmost sincerity.

The eugenics law was reorganized into the Maternal Protection Law in 1996, but many victims are still unable to come forward for fear of facing discrimination.

When the eugenics law was still in effect, doctors wrote that sterilization candidates lack the abilities to raise a child or care for themselves during menstruation. These comments were reported to prefectural panels that were tasked with approving or disapproving surgery.

The prefectural governments of Hokkaido and Miyagi have examined documents used for screening and revealed their outlines. The central government should urge all prefectures to thoroughly investigate the matter.

In the past, similar sterilization procedures were carried out in Sweden and Germany. But after this fact came to light, the governments of both countries made official apologies to the victims and made restitutions.

A United Nations committee in 1998 urged Japan to compensate its victims. But the government claimed that what was done at the time was within the law, and has yet to apologize. This passive attitude reveals an absence of empathy with the victims.

Some Diet members are moving toward establishing a suprapartisan group to remedy the situation through lawmaker-sponsored legislation. Sessions must be held to hear directly from the victims.

A good precedent to bear in mind would be how the government set up remedial measures after it lost a lawsuit concerning the national policy of isolating Hansen’s disease patients under the Leprosy Prevention Law and decided not to appeal.

Victims of the eugenics law are getting on in years, and there is no time to waste. The government must act quickly.

A local government booklet from the 1950s contains shocking passages such as “surpassing the 1,000 mark in the number of sterilized individuals” and “topping the nation by a huge margin in the number of people sterilized.”

We suspect the prefectures competed in accordance with the health ministry’s directive to promote sterilization.

Why did the nation continue to decide who could have children and who could not until as recently as about two decades ago? For allowing this policy to continue for so long, our society as a whole must scrutinize this negative history.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 21