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Academic society to retract push for eugenic protection law 66 yrs after its proposal

This picture taken on Dec. 14, 2018, shows a 1952 proposal made by the Japanese Society for Hygiene calling for the promotion of eugenic measures such as forced sterilization operations. (Mainichi/Norikazu Chiba)

TOKYO -- The Japanese Society for Hygiene, which was active in promoting eugenic policies under the now-defunct eugenic protection law, has decided to retract its proposal made 66 years ago to the government for the use of forced sterilization operations as a means of population control, judging that the move was discriminatory.

It will be the first official admission of a mistake by an academic society among several, such as those for psychiatric medicine or social sciences, which supported sterilization operations against people with mental or physical disabilities that were deemed very serious or hereditary. As many as 25,000 people are believed to have received such surgeries under the 1948-1996 law that is now deemed inhuman, and multiple political parties are putting together a plan to compensate those victims.

Chairman Takemi Otsuki of the society, who also serves as professor of hygiene at Kawasaki Medical School, explains that the society reached the decision as measures have been taken to support the victims of forced sterilization operations. "We want to play a new role to stem the decline in the number of newborns after squarely admitting our past mistake," said Otsuki.

The academic society was founded in 1902 under a different name and assumed the current moniker in 1949, a year after the introduction of the controversial law. As many as 1,500 members, including medical, environmental and nutritional science researchers make up the organization for the study of human health.

The proposal in question was made in 1952. The document stated that the rapid population growth after World War II would lead to "a decline in the allocation of nutrition to the Japanese people, a weakening in physical strength and an increase in the number of diseases such as tuberculosis." It then went on to ask the then Ministry of Health and Welfare "to guide the people so that they will adopt birth control measures on their own."

The society also argued that birth control such as using contraceptives is a "mere technique," saying that making them a goal of state activities "would create a major misunderstanding and may trigger mistakes such as reverse selection," or an increase in people with disabilities.

As the number of newborn children continued to decline in recent years, the hygiene society started to consider making a new proposal after the mass killing in July 2016 of intellectually disabled people in a facility in the city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. The defendant in the case explained that his motivation for the murders was driven by eugenic ideas.

The society has decided to retract the entire 1952 proposal, and will instead call for the promotion of research in issues such as occupational hygiene for male and female workers and the effect of environmental hormones on reproductive abilities.

Among domestic academic societies that played roles in the nation's eugenic policies, the Japanese Society of Health and Human Ecology is conducting an in-house review of its past positions. Its predecessor, the Japanese Association of Race Hygiene, was behind the adoption of the citizen eugenic law (1940-1948), an emulation of the sterilization laws of Nazi Germany.

(Japanese original by Norikazu Chiba, Science & Environment News Department)

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