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Allied forces GHQ criticized eugenics bill as more problematic than Nazi law

This GHQ document dated May 11, 1948, with the name of Alfred G. Oppler, criticizes a draft bill of Japan's eugenic protection law for using medically questionable reasons for justifying forced sterilization surgeries. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A senior official of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan criticized a draft of the eugenic protection law (1948-1996) for using medically questionable reasons to justify forced sterilization, saying even the notorious Nazi law was more specific in spelling out illnesses for which such procedure was allowed, according to American records obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun.

The Japanese lawmakers who wrote the draft initially made revisions in response to the criticism, including that of Alfred G. Oppler, chief of the Courts and Law Division at the Government Section of the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (GHQ). Yet, they eventually returned most of the original content to the bill and passed it into law. The records suggest that the Japanese government and the Diet were well aware of how controversial the law "to prevent the birth of inferior descendants" really was, even before it was introduced.

In June 1948, a multipartisan group of lawmakers drafted a bill for the eugenic protection law, and the Diet passed it unanimously three months later, adding a revision in June 1949. GHQ, headed by General Douglas McArthur, controlled occupied Japan by using the native legislature and bureaucracy from August 1945 to April 1952, when the San Francisco peace treaty came into force between Japan and the allied forces.

Now, victims who were forcibly sterilized under the now-defunct law are suing the Japanese government for damages, saying that the operations violated their reproductive rights and left deep scars on both their bodies and minds.

The documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun include some 200 pages of exchanges between GHQ and Japanese authorities between May 1948 and May 1949 originating in the National Archives of the United States. They were photographed and placed in the National Diet Library of Japan from 1988 to 1989.

According to the records, Oppler stated in his May 11, 1948 memorandum that the bill cited "hereditary mental disease," "hereditary mental weakness," "hereditary pathological character of an intensive and vicious nature" and "severe hereditary deformity" as the grounds for forced sterilization operations, and none of these categories were appropriate. He emphasized that those illnesses do not "fulfill the legal and medical requirements of precise definitions which appear to be absolutely necessary in the case of an authoritative act so deeply affecting the individual."

The legal expert, who was a Jewish judge in Germany, but had to flee to the U.S. under Nazi persecution in 1939, continued to blast the bill as vague. "Even the Nazi sterilization law, which originated from the master race theory of the Third Reich, specifically spelled out the individual diseases regarded as hereditary by medical science."

In Nazi Germany, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people were forcibly subjected to operations under the sterilization law starting January 1934, and many of them were patients at mental hospitals, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Oppler also expressed concerns about possible abuse of the law in Japan, where "the bureaucracy is still permeated by police state ideologies and where official corruption is traditional."

Furthermore, Oppler questioned the fact that the law provided no avenue for appeal in the court of law protesting a decision by the central eugenic protection committee to carry out an operation. "The exclusion of the right to appeal to a court would be unconstitutional," he wrote.

Following his complaint, the Japanese side prepared an "appendix list" to the bill, delineating each illness whose sufferers could be the target of a eugenic surgery. However, the GHQ's Public Health and Welfare Section (PHW) demanded yet another revision, stating that the listed illnesses "with very few exceptions, are of a genetically questionable nature." The section was in charge of disease prevention, public welfare and health, and was involved in the reorganization of the then Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Faced with this new criticism, the Japanese lawmakers removed the provisions questioned by GHQ, and passed the revised bill into law. Nevertheless, they tried to make yet another revision to the bill to expand the scope of forced abortion operations.

Yasaburo Taniguchi, a House of Councillors member and medical doctor who promoted the bill, argued that the revision was necessary "to stop the increase in the number of our population that has already reached its saturation point." He continued that forced sterilization was necessary to fight the population problem and food shortages.

Colonel Harry G. Johnson, chief of the Medical Services Division at PHW, complained about this latest revision in a memorandum dated May 11, 1949, stating that "it still incorporates conditions which are not proven to be hereditary in nature." He nevertheless did not stop the revision, stating that "there is some improvement" in the list of diseases for which sterilization operations were allowed.

In the revised law, conditions such as "hereditary mental disease" and "hereditary mental weakness" remained, and were used to perform forced sterilization operations.

Professor Yoko Matsubara of Ritsumeikan University, a specialist in the introduction of the eugenic protection law, ventured that GHQ's eventual decision not to object to the Japanese argument is perhaps because of the existence of such laws in Europe, and the fact some U.S. states still allowed eugenic operations on people with mental illnesses.

"I wonder if the Japanese side has any record of the exchange with the GHQ," Matsubara said.

(Japanese original by Norikazu Chiba, Science & Environment News Department, Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle News Department and Hiroaki Wada, The Mainichi)

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