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Hospitals say search for forced sterilization surgery records cannot be completed

The Mainichi Shimbun's reporting on the forced sterilization surgeries conducted on disabled people under the now-defunct eugenics protection law won the 2018 fiscal year's Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association Award. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Private hospitals and care facilities say it is physically impossible to examine past records for papers on recipients of forced sterilization operations as requested by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The ministry has asked private hospitals and welfare facilities across the country by way of prefectural governments to check if they have records of such operations carried out on people with disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary diseases under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996) and report the results by Sept. 21.

The survey is part of the central government's efforts to determine the extent of the damage caused by the forced procedures, now deemed inhumane and violation of the patients' human rights, and to design an appropriate relief program. The ministry has already found records for 3,303 people who underwent the surgeries via documents stored by prefectural governments.

As for the additional search of other records, private hospitals and care facilities responded to a Mainichi Shimbun inquiry that they cannot complete such a check on time. An official at a major hospital in Tokyo said that the facility stores medical records on patients dating back some 50 years. The hospital was asked by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to examine its records, but "the amount is much too massive and we simply cannot go over them. I told the metropolitan government that we don't have any records," said the official. An official from a different mental hospital also said they do not know what to do about the government request: "How should we go back in time?"

The ministry instructed the hospitals and welfare facilities that this survey does not require a full review of all records, and that re-examination of documents cannot be forced even when hospitals and other facilities responded that they did not have any papers without actually checking.

A Tokyo Metropolitan Government official in charge of the investigation said, "If there is an inquiry from a hospital, then we explain that is not necessary to examine records page by page after considering the burden on the hospital officials."

The ministry inquiry also faces the obstacle posed by the Act on the Protection of Personal Information. An official of the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, which carried out a similar poll of private medical and welfare facilities before the ministry survey, pointed out that those facilities have to follow this law, and cannot provide information about patients or residents to the prefectural government. A Miyagi Prefectural Government official in northeastern Japan emphasized, "A special law is required to empower prefectural governments to conduct a proper investigation."

Keiko Toshimitsu, a visiting researcher at Ritsumeikan University specializing in the eugenics law, is worried that the ministry survey may not be able to come up with the expected results. "We need to find existing personal records to provide relief to as many victims as possible," said Toshimitsu.

(Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle News Department, and Motomi Kusakabe, Hokkaido News Department)

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