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Eugenics protection law was unanimously passed after lawmakers slandered disabled people

TOKYO -- The now-defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996) was unanimously enacted in the Diet after legislators from both conservative and reformist camps employed all kinds of discriminatory terms against people with disabilities in proposing the bill, it has been learned.

According to the minutes of Diet proceedings from that time, the bill, which allowed for forcible sterilization surgeries on people with disabilities and other disorders, was passed into law at a House of Councillors plenary session in June 1948, on the grounds of "not leaving malignant genetic elements to the qualities of our people."

In the lead up to the law's passage, a then Japan Socialist Party female legislator told a Diet meeting in December 1947, "Unlike many other bills, the bill (on eugenics protection) is significant in that it was submitted by legislators." Citing a similar law enacted in 1940, under which sterilization surgeries were performed on a voluntary basis, and criticizing the prewar law for "hardly attaining the objective of preventing malignant heredity," she proposed the eugenics protection bill, which allowed for forced sterilization surgeries.

Although the bill was subsequently scrapped, a conservative male lawmaker proposed a revised bill, which clarified the subjects of forced sterilization surgeries by describing them as "those who are recognized to be maladjusted to lead a social life and whose life would be miserable." The lawmaker later joined what is now the Liberal Democratic Party, a ruling party in the National Diet.

After the eugenics protection law was enforced, lawmakers pressed for a budget increase and acted aggressively to advance the law. In 1952, a bill to revise the law to allow for forced sterilization surgeries on people with non-hereditary disabilities as well upon consent from their parents and guardians was proposed and eventually passed into law. In the following year, lawmakers called on the government to increase the budget for forced sterilization surgeries on the grounds that those with disabilities "destroy the economy and disrupt the social order and calm." In 1957, Diet members demanded that criminals be also subject to forced sterilizations by introducing legal sanctions to prevent their conception.

When the eugenics protection law was revised into what is now the Maternal Health Act at the initiative of lawmakers, no remorse was shown in the Diet over the former law. During the roughly 70 years since the enactment of the eugenics protection law until April this year, question and answer sessions about the law and the concept of eugenics took place in a total of at least 648 plenary and committee sessions in both houses of the Diet. However, there were only 10 question and answer sessions about compensation for and an apology to victims of forced sterilization surgeries during the 22 years since the law's revision, illustrating low interest in such moves among legislators.

Of those 648 sessions, a little under 50 percent took place in a period up to the 1960s, when both the executive and legislative branches of government were promoting forced sterilization surgeries. In the 1970s, the focus of question and answer sessions included an objection from a Japan Socialist Party female lawmaker to a government-proposed bill to revise the law to allow for abortions of fetuses with disabilities while banning abortions for economic reasons.

Among the 648 sessions, 85 took place between the law's revision and April this year. After a woman in her 60s from Miyagi Prefecture filed a state redress suit in January this year over her forced sterilization surgery, a suprapartisan group of legislators to consider relief measures for victims and a government and ruling party working group were launched. However, there have since been only three question and answer sessions over the former eugenics protection law up until now.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)

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