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1951 Hokkaido gov't notice urged sterilizations for kids with intellectual disabilities

A copy of a 1951 notice sent by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government to operators of facilities for children with intellectual disabilities is seen in this photo taken on April 4, 2018. (Mainichi)

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government sent a notice in 1951 urging the operators of facilities for children with intellectual disabilities to proactively submit applications for their forced sterilizations in an attempt to promote such surgeries under the now-defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996), it has been learned.

The Hokkaido government's move is believed to have prompted "mass forced sterilization operations" in the prefecture, where the number of such surgeries spiked from 1951 to hit a record high in the country. While screening panels set up at each prefectural government were supposed to make a final decision on whether to have people undergo forced sterilizations upon applications filed by doctors, an expert points out that "the eugenics law was administered in a careless manner" in the prefecture.

According to annual reports by the former Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of forced sterilizations performed in Hokkaido shot up from 10 in 1950 to 166 in 1951, then to 279 in 1955 and peaked in 1956 at 315.

In response to an information disclosure request by the Mainichi Shimbun, the Hokkaido Prefectural Government on April 4 released a total of 55 sets of documents on forced sterilizations from 1949 through 1996 that have been kept at the prefectural government office and public health centers in the prefecture.

Among the documents is a notice that was sent under the names of the prefectural government's sanitation division chief and health division chief to the operators of three facilities for children with disabilities in Sapporo and Ebetsu in the prefecture. The notice, dated Aug. 2, 1951 and titled "On forced eugenic sterilization surgeries on children with intellectual disabilities," stated: "If there is someone accommodated at your facility who needs applications (for forced sterilizations), please take heed to proactively submit applications to public health centers." The notice further read, "The doctors (who make diagnoses) can be anyone, such as part-time doctors or practitioners," and "The consent of the persons themselves or their parents is not necessary," and "There is no need to worry as the cost will be footed by the central government."

Furthermore, the notice contained descriptions intended to dispel anxieties among children subject to such surgeries and their families, stating, "The surgery is a simple one that requires hospitalization for just two to three days for boys and around one week for girls." It also stated, "It's a simple operation aimed at preventing childbirth through vasectomy for boys and tubectomy for girls."

According to the former Ministry of Health and Welfare's statistics, a total of 2,593 people underwent forced sterilizations in Hokkaido, accounting for 16 percent of the nationwide figure of such patients at 16,475 and at least 1,000 more than in Miyagi Prefecture, whose number was second highest in the country.

In a booklet that the Hokkaido Prefectural Government produced in January 1956 after the number of forced sterilization surgeries in the prefecture topped 1,000, the prefecture boasted that "our having achieved the nation's top record is not because there were many patients, but owes to nothing other than cooperation provided by doctors, screening panel members and other parties." The booklet also noted that there were cases in which "forced sterilizations were performed in groups on a voluntary basis."

Yuji Hanaoka, director-general of the prefectural government's bureau for promoting children's future, said, "It is unclear how and why the prefectural government's notice was issued." He added, "I assume that the prefectural government at the time carried forward the measure amid the central government's promotion of a forced sterilization policy."

(Japanese original by Motomi Kusakabe, Kotaro Adachi and Ryuko Tadokoro, Hokkaido News Department)

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