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Lawmakers eyeing broad compensation coverage for eugenic sterilization victims

TOKYO -- A supra-partisan group of lawmakers plans to have the government offer broad compensation for victims of sterilization operations that targeted people with disabilities and others based on the defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996), the Mainichi Shimbun learned on Aug. 21.

According to the draft plan, financial compensation will be offered even to people who received such surgeries which were conducted ignoring the conditions stipulated by the law and those who do not have documentation of their operations other than verbal testimonies by people who were involved. In addition to monetary redress, the government will also make official apologies to the victims. However, only those who actually received such operations will be eligible to apply for compensation.

Legislators will continue discussions with government officials and officials of the ruling coalition to finalize the draft, and intend to submit the bill during the next ordinary session of the Diet in 2019.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, some 25,000 people are estimated to have undergone sterilization surgeries based on the now-defunct eugenics law, which faces strong criticism as discriminatory and inhumane. Of the total, surgeries on some 16,000 people were carried out without consent from the patients.

In addition to those cases, hysterectomies and surgeries carried out without taking legally required steps have also emerged. The lawmakers plan to accept victims of such cases that fall outside the framework of the law as still eligible for compensation. Operations carried out after 1996, when the eugenics law was revised into the Maternal Health Act, are outside the scope of the redress program.

The compensation awarded will not be classified as damages paid for illegal acts, but instead as restitution for injuries. The payments will be made in a lump sum, not in installments, as was done in Germany following acknowledgment of similar laws that were enforced during Nazi rule. Amounts will not differ depending on whether the victims gave their consent to the sterilizations or not. The lawmakers will decide on the amount of monetary compensation in future discussions.

After victims apply for redress, a panel of experts and others will screen their applications, and the health minister will make the final certification. Applicants without documented evidence of the sterilization surgery will also be accepted based on their own testimonies and relevant people, as well as a medical doctor's certification of the operative scars.

Only the victims themselves are eligible to apply, and within a roughly five-year period following the introduction of the compensation program. Their family members, including their spouses, cannot make applications in place of the victims.

No direct notification about the compensation program will be sent to potential applicants out of consideration for their privacy and other reasons. The government instead intends to publicize the program through public relations channels.

According to a survey of prefectural governments conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, only about 20 percent of sterilization surgeries records that include information such as the name of the patient remain. This means proving compensation applicants were subject to the procedure will be difficult based on documentation alone. A member of the lawmakers group explained that they decided to not require such operation records in a bid to offer wider possible coverage "even for questionable cases."

But the plan's exclusion of spouses or family members as compensation applicants may prove to be problematic. In a damages lawsuit filed against the government in the Sapporo District Court, a wife who received a eugenics operation and her husband are both plaintiffs, claiming that they were deprived of their right to start a family by the law. This case will be outside of the compensation scheme devised by the lawmakers, and its exclusion may trigger criticism against the proposed program. The authority and membership of the screening panel will also come under public scrutiny.

Moreover, the amount of compensation remains undecided, making it impossible to determine at this time exactly how much money will be needed in total. The scope of compensation coverage may also become the focus of tough negotiation with the government and the ruling bloc.

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa and Ryosuke Abe, Medical Welfare News Department)

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