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'Return my body that can bear children': Testimony begins in Osaka eugenics case

At an informational gathering after the trial hearing, a woman, right, explains to a man the report by the legal team representing the plaintiffs in Japanese Sign Language, in Osaka's Kita Ward, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

OSAKA -- The first oral arguments were heard in the district court here on Dec. 12 in the case of a 75-year-old woman with intellectual disabilities from western Japan suing the government for compensation over her forced sterilization surgery under the eugenic protection law (1948-1996).

The central government has taken the stance that it will fight the suit demanding 33 million yen in compensation, but did not make any mention of its position on the constitutionality of the now-defunct law. Facing the courtroom to give her testimony, the woman lamented, "Give me back a body that can bear children."

So far, lawsuits over the eugenic law have been filed at six district courts across the country. In four courts including the Tokyo District Court and the Sendai District Court, testimony has already begun. This case in the Osaka District Court is the first to enter into oral proceedings in the Kansai region in western Japan.

According to the suit, the woman from the Kinki region, also in western Japan, contracted the brain infection Japanese encephalitis when she was a third-year student in junior high school. She was left with lasting damage from the aftereffects of the disease, which causes inflammation of the brain. After graduating from high school, she was taken to an OB-GYN, and was subjected to sterilization surgery with no explanation. She married in 1973, but her husband died without ever knowing the truth.

The woman came to court on Dec. 12 in a wheelchair, and gave her testimony while reading from a sheet of paper. "I was taken to the hospital by my mother," she said. "A surgical knife was inserted, and it hurt a lot." Recalling her husband who always wished for children, her voice shook as she said, "Because of the operation, I was unable to bear children, and it was a big shock."

The woman's older sister also spoke in court. "When I heard that they had forced her to have a sterilization surgery, I thought I was looking into hell," she said. "I feel so sorry for my little sister. Please give her appropriate redress."

The woman's side is arguing that the eugenics law infringed upon her right to the pursuit of happiness protected by the Constitution along with other human rights. They are holding to account the central government and the National Diet for neglecting to take steps to compensate victims of the law after it was revised in 1996.

In response, the government is using the same counterargument as in the previous cases, that the plaintiffs could have sought reparations under the State Redress Act. The government is arguing that the statute of limitations for claiming compensation for an illegal act, 20 years from its occurrence, has already passed in this case.

(Japanese original by Fumie Togami, Osaka City News Department)

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