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Japanese gov't to legislate compensation to kin of former leprosy patients

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, foreground, bows deeply to anonymous plaintiffs of a lawsuit filed by the families of former Hansen's disease patients against the government over its past segregation policy, after offering an apology to Chikara Hayashi, right, head of the plaintiffs' group, and other members of the group at the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on July 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on July 24 that the government will introduce legislation to provide compensation to family members of former Hansen's disease patients, who suffered discrimination and prejudice under the now-defunct segregation policy against leprosy patients.

The announcement came as Abe offered an apology to plaintiffs of a lawsuit filed by former patients' kin against the government over its past segregation policy at the prime minister's office in Tokyo that day, after the government did not appeal a court ruling awarding state redress to the families.

The government and the Diet aim to revise the Act on Promotion of Resolution of Issues Related to Hansen's Disease, which is designed to promote restoration of the honor of former leprosy patients, and develop legislation providing for concrete measures to compensate former patients' kin, during the extraordinary Diet session this coming autumn.

Following the meeting, the plaintiffs also met with Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto and called for adopting measures to review a social system that promotes discrimination and prejudice.

At a general meeting of a suprapartisan group of Diet members concerning issues to do with Hansen's disease on the same day, Hiroshi Moriyama, chairman of the group and ruling Liberal Democratic Party Diet Affairs Committee, commented, "We would like to complete relevant legislation during the extraordinary Diet session this fall."

The Act on Promotion of Resolution of Issues Related to Hansen's Disease, which was enacted in 2008 as a lawmaker-sponsored legislation, stipulates that the 13 national sanatoria for Hansen's disease patients across the country should be made accessible to local community residents. While Article 1 of the law provides for the responsibility of the national and local governments in resolving issues pertaining to promotion of welfare for former leprosy patients and restoring their honor, it does not refer to their families. Relatives of former patients are demanding that the law be amended to include a ban on discrimination against family members, who suffered damage on par with that inflicted on former patients themselves.

Apart from this, there are strong calls for adopting separate legislation that specifies the extent of family members subject to compensation and the amount of damage to be paid. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the ruling and opposition parties will look into the adoption of new legislation and amending the law for compensating former leprosy patients.

Following the meeting with the plaintiffs, Nemoto said, "Working-level talks on compensation with the plaintiffs' group will commence by the end of July. Putting together a lawmaker-initiated legislation would be a leading option."

(Japanese original by Masahiro Sakai, Takuya Murata and Keisuke Umeda, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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