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2 major psychiatric groups to conduct internal surveys of involvement with eugenics law

TOKYO -- Two of Japan's largest psychiatric societies will carry out investigations of their connection to the "unfortunate history" of forced sterilization surgeries on those with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses carried out under the eugenic protection law (1948-1996).

The academic Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology and the educational Japanese Association for Mental Health, with a membership of 17,000 and 800, respectively, are the first organizations to announce that they will conduct self-verification of their involvement with the eugenic protection law. The academic society is set to launch their investigation in June this year, while the educational association will establish a survey panel on Jan. 29, and publicize their results after verification has been completed.

The forced operations mainly targeted those with psychiatric and intellectual conditions, and many psychiatrists made applications for the procedures to the prefectural eugenic protection examination panels, and others also served as members on the decision-making panels. If verification investigations from such large groups progress, then it could shine a light on the process of selecting individuals for the surgeries and the actual application process.

In 1953, five years after the eugenics law went into effect, the Japanese Association for Mental Health submitted a petition to the then Ministry of Health and Welfare requesting "fiscal measures to promote the implementation of eugenic surgeries to prevent the genes of those with mental disorders to be passed on." Immediately following the request, the number of operations carried out all across Japan topped 1,000 cases annually, and it is thought that the association not only was involved in the applications for the surgeries based on the law, but also played a role in the increase in the total number of surgeries.

At the time, University of Tokyo professor Yushi Uchimura, who was the director of the association, was also serving as the director of the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.

An internal panel set up within the society has been debating the need for verification of its involvement in the eugenics issue since last summer. At a general conference of the society to be held in June, they plan to invite experts on the history of eugenics and others, and begin the verification process.

The Japanese Association for Mental Health, meanwhile, is planning to investigate the involvement of both the psychiatrists who were part of the group and the organization itself in surgeries including those carried out under the predecessor to the eugenics law, the National Eugenic Act (1941-1948), which was modeled after the sterilization law in Nazi Germany.

"I can't speak about the details of the content of the verification at this time," said association director Takuya Kojima. "But we would like to carry out thorough internal discussions, and report the results to the public."

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

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