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Editorial: Remembering the importance of life 1 year after Sagamihara killings

Nearly one year has passed since the fatal stabbing of 19 severely disabled people at Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden), a home for the disabled in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Sagamihara. The residents were allegedly killed by Satoshi Uematsu, a former worker at the home, in the predawn hours of July 26 last year.

    Uematsu, 27, has yet to go on trial over the killings, and central elements such as how he came to hold the irrational motive for his crime -- that the disabled are not valuable enough to live -- have not yet been divulged.

    Survivors of the attack are now living temporarily at a facility in Yokohama and elsewhere. Many of them are said to still suffer from the trauma of the horrendous incident.

    In the wake of the attack, the Kanagawa Prefectural Government initially proposed rebuilding the whole Tsukui Yamayuri En facility anew, based on a request from a group representing the families of residents. However, criticism arose from disabled people in various regions over the notion of once again placing disabled people in a large facility in the mountains, and so officials took their plans back to the drawing board.

    The prefectural government has now proposed opening new, smaller facilities in Sagamihara and Yokohama in four years' time. Building small, homely group facilities would open more options, officials say. Time will be spent on checking the opinions of disabled people to decide where they will live.

    The group representing families has expressed firm resistance to this proposal, but it is only natural to place priority on the thoughts of the disabled people themselves. There has been a global trend to respect the decisions of the disabled people themselves, even when their disabilities are severe, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is formulating guidelines to support their decision-making processes.

    Large-scale facilities housing many elderly people with heavy disabilities exist across Japan. There is strong resistance from families to these people's transition to community life, and such a transition is not easily accomplished.

    The Kanagawa Prefectural Government is set to confirm the intentions of the disabled residents from Tsukui Yamayuri En through a team comprising workers in various fields, including welfare workers, psychologists and lawyers. We hope this will serve as a model for welfare of the disabled in Japan in the future.

    At the same time, moves to prevent a repeat of the deadly attack have meandered. The health ministry submitted a bill to revise the Mental Health Act to a regular session of the Diet, but due to strong resistance from those associated with the disabled, the issue has been left for further deliberation.

    Uematsu carried out the attack just four months after he was released following a period of compulsory hospitalization. Because of this, officials decided to include in their draft revision consultative support from local bodies and public health centers following the release of patients, along with measures to boost information-sharing about patients among local bodies.

    However, welfare services supporting community life for the disabled are lacking in Japan, and if authorities merely enhance consultation services and the transmission of information of patients after their release without addressing this shortage, then it is tantamount to boosting surveillance of patients.

    It has emerged that Uematsu was diagnosed as having a narcissistic personality disorder -- which does not allow him to evade criminal responsibility for his actions. The disorder is said to be hard to treat through current mental health provisions, and debate has even arisen over whether or not it is appropriate to discuss the condition within the scope of psychiatric treatment in terms of preventing recurrences. This remains a weighty issue.

    After the deadly attack at Tsukui Yamayuri En, the health ministry provided subsidies to enhance security through security cameras and locks. But Uematsu did not launch his attack at the facility at random -- he was a former worker who had been there for over three years. It has been confirmed that he spoke violently toward disabled people when working there and physically abused them. Officials should not restrict countermeasures to equipment and facilities; they should focus more on educating workers and on training to prevent abuse.

    Discrimination against the disabled is scattered across the internet nowadays. It may be that social disparity has spread, and amid excessive calls for self-responsibility, many people may have taken a warped view of the disabled.

    However, every person has the right to live. The severely disabled have some influence on society through their kin and the people around them. There are quite a few artists and economists who have made great achievements after being stimulated and influenced in various ways by children with disabilities.

    It has been pointed out that the claims Uematsu made were influenced by eugenic thought. But Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which was the base for eugenic thought, is not a way of thinking indicating that the brilliant and strong are the ones who survive. It is a mere indication of the providence of nature -- nothing more than survival adapted to the environment and the times.

    Facing a global environment with limited resources, we live in a world where undeveloped frontiers have vanished. Can we not conclude that the biased line of thinking which does not permit the existence of others does not match our current environment?

    We must recognize each other's values and individuality, and coexist while supporting each other, for if we don't, we cannot look forward to maintaining and developing society. The painful killings that took place one year ago continue to remind us of that.

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