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Suit opens over suicide of Osaka man allegedly forced to pen description of disability

The document which a man who committed suicide was allegedly forced to write by board members of a neighborhood association is seen in this photo taken in the city of Osaka on July 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Haruka Ito)

OSAKA -- The parents of a man with an intellectual disability and a psychiatric disorder who took his own life in 2019 have filed a lawsuit for damages claiming that he was forced to write a description of his condition by the board members of a neighborhood association before his suicide.

    The first hearing for the case, in which the mother and father are demanding 25 million yen (about $238,750) in compensation, was held on July 31 at the Osaka District Court. The defendants indicated they intend to counter the suit's claims vigorously.

    According to the complaint and other sources, the man lived alone in a municipal housing complex in the western Japan city of Osaka, and it was decided in November 2019 that group leaders for the neighborhood association would be chosen at random from among the residents. Although the man asked the board members to be exempted from the selection process, they did not accept his request, claiming that they cannot give him special treatment.

    When the matter was discussed in the association meeting venue, the board members asked the man to write down that he has a disability as well as how it influences his daily life. After the man finished penning his statement, the board members told him that they would introduce the man to the other residents, and also show them the document. The man took his own life inside his apartment the following day, Nov. 25.

    The forced statement was handwritten on two pieces of letter paper, and begins with the words, "I have a disability." He listed tasks that he had trouble with and indicated each one with an 'x,' such as "I can't count money," "I get scared and want to escape when there are many people around," and "I can't sort garbage." It seems that he also wrote what he could do, preceded by a circle, including, "I can pass on circulars to the next person."

    The man's parents argued that their son's right to privacy and personal rights were violated, stating that "Information such as having a disability is personal, and you do not want other people to know about it. The board members forced him to create the document against his will, even though there was no need to." The parents claim that the board members imposed an emotional burden on their son by telling him that they would show it to other residents and that they were capable of foreseeing the possibility of suicide.

    Meanwhile, the board members denied having forced the man and argued that, "We thought about what we can do to exempt the man from being selected as a group leader while gaining the understanding of other residents." Regarding the creation of the document, they claim, "He showed no signs of unwillingness. We chose an appropriate, stress-free method."

    According to the man's 41-year-old brother who lived nearby, on the night before his death, the man said, "I was forced to write things down to the smallest detail, even stuff I didn't want to talk about. I'm going to be humiliated in front of people," while sighing and appearing to be very down.

    The brother said, "My little brother was earnest and quiet, and could not go against others when given orders due to his disability. I won't forgive them for driving him to suicide."

    The following are translated extracts from the man's statement:

    I have a disability.

    O: I can put 2,500 yen in an envelope.

    X: I can't count money.

    O: I can talk with people one-on-one.

    X: I get scared and want to escape when there are many people around.

    O: I can pass on circulars to the next person.

    O: I can bow to people when I meet them.

    X: I don't like dogs and cats.

    X: I can't sort garbage.

    O: I can ride a bicycle.

    O: I can do laundry. I can also hang it out to dry.

    O: I can shop at any supermarket or convenience store.

    O: I can go to the municipal government hall and the hospital.

    X: I'm not good with kanji characters and katakana letters.

    (Japanese original by Haruka Ito, Osaka City News Department)

    * * *

    -- List of suicide prevention hotlines

    TELL Lifeline (English) https://telljp.com/lifeline/

    Telephone hotline: 03-5774-0992 (9 a.m.-11 p.m. daily)

    Online chat: https://telljp.com/lifeline/tell-chat/ (Fri.-Sun., 10:30 p.m.-2 a.m.)

    Counseling inquiries: 03-4550-1146 (Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.)

    ***

    Federation of Inochi no Denwa (literally "telephone of life") can be reached by phone at 0570-783-556 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Federation Inochi no Denwa also accepts toll free phone consultations on the 10th of every month from 8 a.m. until 8 a.m. the following day at 0120-783-556

    The Federation's website is here: http://www.inochinodenwa.org/

    A list of hotlines by regions affiliated with the center can be found here: http://www.inochinodenwa.org/lifeline.php

    ***

    The Tokyo suicide prevention center, a member of the nonprofit organization Befrienders Worldwide, can be reached every day from 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. (from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Thursdays) at 03-5286-9090, or at http://www.befrienders-jpn.org/

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