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1952 Hokkaido gov't notice widened scope of sterilizations with 29-item survey

SAPPORO -- The Hokkaido Prefectural Government sent a notice in 1952 to public health centers to evaluate candidates for sterilizations under the now-defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996) with a 29-item survey, it has emerged.

The items, such as the personality, physical condition and preferences of the family of those with disabilities, appear to have aimed to investigate the hereditary nature of disabilities. But there were also many screening criteria such as "an interest in performing arts," "dislike for studying" and "short temperedness" for which the basis of the question is unclear.

It is extremely rare for a prefectural government to release the detailed contents of a hereditary survey. Experts point to the possibility that not only the person being evaluated for the surgery had their human rights infringed upon, but also their close relatives.

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

The document was sent by the head of the prefectural health guidance division to each public health office around Hokkaido in September 1952, following revision to the eugenics law that widened the scope of those covered by the law beyond those with hereditary mental illnesses, and is titled, "Concerning the outline for hereditary surveys used for eugenic surgeries."

According to the notice, the target of the survey was defined as the person designated for screening, plus relatives to the fourth degree of kinship, including their children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and first cousins. In the case that the individual was adopted, the biological family was also subject to investigation. When conducting the survey, other than cases in which a disability was revealed to be hereditary, the questioning of neighbors and acquaintances was "required."

The contents of the questions were divided into the three categories: personality, physical condition and intelligence. Not only was the item "physical condition weak from birth" included among physical characteristics on the survey, but the notice also ordered the examination of factors such as "short temperament," "nervousness," "weak-willed," "stubborn," "disliking social interaction with others," "interest in performing arts and entertainment" and numerous other personality traits and interests that would apply to a large number of people.

In addition, the notice requested that no relevant people go unexamined, and emphasized cooperation from the public health offices because the prefecture hoped for the "broad expansion and thoroughness of the surgeries," promoting an increase in individuals targeted for sterilization.

The enforcement regulations for the eugenics protection law requested that relatives' suicides, disappearances, tendency for "drunken rages" and other incidents be investigated, but the Hokkaido Prefectural Government's notice about the screening criteria was even more detailed. It is currently unknown if other prefectures also carried out similar surveys.

The results of the questionnaire were used by a prefectural screening panel to decide who would undergo forced eugenic sterilization, and according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, they had to be submitted along with a health examination report written up by doctors, among others. However, the notice also seems to envision non-doctors carrying out examinations, as it simply demands "obtaining knowledge." A Hokkaido Prefectural Government source surmised that this may have referred to regular public health office personnel.

According to lawyer Takehiko Nishimura, a member of the Hokkaido legal team representing sterilized individuals, the Hokkaido man in his 70s, who has decided to move forward with filing for compensation from the central government, is claiming that he was misdiagnosed and had no signs of any intellectual disabilities.

Hokkaido saw the largest number of sterilization surgeries under the eugenics law at 2,593. Four years after the notice was issued, the number of annual surgeries hit its peak at 315 procedures. (Japanese original by Motomi Kusakabe and Kotaro Adachi, Hokkaido News Department)

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