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Health ministry doc shows official questioned eugenics law 10 yrs before revision

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has released an internal document showing that an official called into question the eugenics protection law that permitted forcible sterilization surgeries for mainly disabled people and considered revisions to the law in 1986 -- 10 years before the legislation was actually amended.

It earlier came to light that a ministry study group comprised of experts compiled a report in 1988 pointing out that such forcible operations under the eugenics protection law (1948-1996) constituted a violation of human rights. However, the recently discovered document shows that questions were raised within the ministry over such surgeries before the study group's report.

Government statistics suggest that 18 people had received forcible sterilization surgeries since 1986 until the law was finally revised into the Maternal Health Act in 1996.

An individual linked to the ministry who is familiar with the matter said, "Revisions to the law were impossible because of bitter conflicts between women's organizations and legislators over abortion. There were no calls for the deletion of a clause permitting forced sterilization surgeries (before addressing the issue of abortion)."

The document in question is among roughly 250 internal documents about the law that the ministry has recently discovered inside its storage facility and the National Institute of Public Health, among other locations.

The document titled, "Regarding revisions to the eugenics protection law," was drafted in the name of a senior specialist in mental health at the then Health and Welfare Ministry in 1986, 10 years before the law was revised into the Maternal Health Act in 1996.

The draft outlines a procedure for implementing a five-year plan to revise the eugenics protection law and the amount of funds that should be allocated from the state budget to that end. The draft states that there are probably problems with forced sterilization surgeries from a humanitarian viewpoint, as outsiders pointed out.

Whether the ministry went ahead with the five-year plan, or how, remains unclear, but the ministry set up the study group consisting of experts the following fiscal year to consider the matter.

In March 1988, the study group released a report stating that forced surgery badly infringed on human rights.

The ministry also released a document distributed during an internal study session that the ministry held in September 1988 apparently in response to the report. At the beginning, the document pointed to the need to consider deleting the clause allowing for forcible sterilization operations from the eugenics law.

However, little progress was made on procedures for revising the law. It was eight years later that a legislator-initiated bill to revise the law into the Maternal Health Act was enacted.

The content of the document can be read by visiting the ministry's website (in Japanese): https://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/newpage_01166.html

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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