A Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare team of experts recently released a set of recommendations to prevent another massacre of the disabled like the one that struck a care facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in July.
One of the things the experts recommend is for local governments and medical institutions to provide continuing support for anyone committed to psychiatric care by government order after the person's release, to prevent the patient from becoming isolated or losing access to treatment. The recommendation is in direct response to the Sagamihara massacre. The man accused of the crime had been put in compulsory care after sending letters that hinted strongly at the mass killing, but he stopped coming to the hospital soon after he was released and thus lost all support.
This was just one of many suggestions in the team's report. However, what really impressed me was the emphasis on "a barrier-free heart" in the first half of the recommendations. The accused in the Sagamihara case developed a twisted and highly selfish set of values, including that the lives of the disabled had no value. The accused saw the disabled as inferior as human beings, a fact pointed out in the experts' report, which goes on to say:
"It is most important to wipe out prejudice and discriminatory ideas, and for everyone in society to share the plainly obvious view that everyone's life is precious, entirely regardless of whether or not they have a disability."
What struck me when I read this passage is the statement that "everyone's life is precious, entirely regardless of whether or not they have a disability," and that this is a "plainly obvious view."
Unfortunately, in our present era, societies all over the world have yet to free themselves of prejudice, not just against the disabled, but also directed at people of different races and ethnicities, at sexual minorities, at refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their own countries.
While some people look at this and say, "Everyone's life is worth the same as mine," others bite back, "But we must put the needs of our own people first!" I sometimes wrack my brains for some way to explain the tremendous preciousness of each and every life to these folks.
The expert team report's answer to this is that no explanation is needed, that the equal value of every life is a given. I was very happy to read this, and decided on the spot that I would say the same thing.
"Why is every life of equal importance, no matter whose?" "Because of course it is!"
I am very grateful to the expert team report for giving me such a simple yet powerful reply to the voices of prejudice. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)