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Sexual interest decided Aomori eugenic surgery panel's final cases: psychiatrist

AOMORI -- A psychiatrist who served on a prefectural eugenic protection review panel in the late 1980s here reportedly testified that decisions whether to approve forced sterilizations of individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary diseases were made depending on if the person showed signs of sexual interest, the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

While the former professor at Hirosaki University School of Medicine, 85, had his reservations about the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996), he raised no objection during the screening process. "It was known that it couldn't be confirmed if disabilities were hereditary," he told the Mainichi. "Even if the law itself was bad, if there was no problem with the paperwork, the only option was to approve the surgery," he said.

The psychiatrist was a member of the prefectural examination panel that reviewed the last two sterilization cases in Aomori Prefecture -- one in 1988 and another in 1989. According to the man's testimony and prefectural documents acquired by the Mainichi Shimbun, the two cases the man reviewed were a woman in her 30s and one in her 20s, both with "feeble-mindedness," the term at the time for an intellectual disability. Of the two, the parents of the woman in her 20s consulted a doctor saying that the woman's "sexual interest was beginning to strengthen, and it seems like she will cause a problem," and an application was made to the panel for permission to sterilize her.

In the paperwork submitted to the examination panel, it is written that the woman "has a strong interest in men," "may possibly be pregnant," "chases a male employee on a bicycle" and other actions, including some that are normal for healthy young women her age.

There were nine members on the review panel. Each case was examined for several dozen minutes, and during that time, the members looked over the surgery application form, a survey created by the public health department, a family tree of the immediate family and relatives and other documents before approving the surgeries. While he doubted the hereditary nature of disabilities, the man said he remained silent, and none of the other members of the panel disagreed with the surgeries either.

"It was decided by whether or not the sexual interest of the individual stood out or not," he said. "It was to honor the wishes of the parents (who worried about unwanted pregnancy or problems arising from sexual activity)."

At the time, social criticism of the forced sterilizations was beginning to spread, and because the social stance of "managing" people with disabilities was beginning to change into "aiming to integrate them into local communities," almost all other prefectures did not perform the surgeries by the late '80s. The national budget for eugenic-related surgeries had also decreased to 1.3 million yen per year from the mid-'80s until the eugenics law was revised in 1996.

Still, the man's testimony shows that even with the tide of public opinion shifting, in reality, it was difficult to put a stop to the infringement of human rights by the examination panels. He says that he came to sit on the panel to replace a previous professor, and that his work there "was nothing more than one job out of many" and wasn't a duty on which he "placed much importance." He also stated, "It was not like the patient was there in front of you at the time, so it was disconnected from the reality of the situation."

(Japanese original by Ayumu Iwasaki, Aomori Bureau, and Asako Kamihigashi, Tokyo Lifestyle News Department)

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