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Letter shows ex-health ministry pressured pref. gov'ts to boost eugenic surgeries

The document bearing the name of the head of the former Ministry of Health and Welfare mental hygiene division sent out to prefectural governments across Japan in 1957 is pictured at the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives in the city's Sakyo Ward on Feb. 15, 2018. (Mainichi)

In 1957, the then Ministry of Health and Welfare pressured prefectural governments to boost forced sterilization surgeries performed under a now defunct eugenics law, it has been learned.

Under the Eugenics Protection Act (1948-1996), the central government allocated funds for forced sterilization surgeries on those with certain disabilities and illnesses. In 1956, the number of surgeries nationwide fell for the first time since the enactment of the law, and experts say that the national government sent a letter to prefectural governments urging them to conduct more eugenic surgeries because officials did not want to see funds allocated for such operations reduced.

The notice is two-pages of handwritten text created on April 27, 1957 by the mental hygiene division of the former Ministry of Health and Welfare's public sanitation bureau. The division head's name is listed as the sender, with the heads of all prefectural sanitation management bureaus and departments as the recipients. The document appears to be one example of communication about the eugenics policy exchanged between the ministry and prefectural governments, and the Mainichi Shimbun obtained a copy of the original document kept at the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward.

At the beginning of the letter, concern is expressed that "while the number of annual eugenic surgeries performed has been growing, it still falls short of the number that can be performed under the budget." A summary of all the forced sterilization surgeries reported to the ministry listed by each prefecture in 1956 is attached, and the letter continues, "When the number of procedures is compared, there is an extreme imbalance (among prefectures) as shown by the attached document."

"It's not that the subjects for these surgeries do not exist, but activities to enlighten related parties and greater efforts by you (the head of the prefectural bureaus) could produce better results," the document continues. "It is requested that special care is paid to carrying out eugenic surgeries in order to accomplish these results during this fiscal year."

According to the annual sanitation report put out by the former health ministry and other sources, after a nationwide peak of 1,362 forced sterilization surgeries in 1955, the number fell to 1,264 in 1956. The nationwide decrease did not reverse in 1957, the year the letter was sent out, but over 10 prefectures including Yamagata, Miyagi, Aichi, Nagano, Tokushima, Fukuoka and Kagoshima all saw an increase in sterilizations from 1957 to 1958.

A representative from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that oversees the revised eugenics protection law, the Maternal Health Act, stated, "Because the document is not in my possession and I cannot grasp the circumstances under which it was issued, I cannot comment at this time."

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