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Defunct Japan eugenics law unconstitutional but plaintiffs receive no damages: Osaka court

After the ruling, an attorney and another staffer hold up pieces of paper that read "Unjust ruling," right, and "Demand unaccepted," in Osaka's Kita Ward on Nov. 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

OSAKA -- In a lawsuit filed against the Japanese government by a married couple and a woman who were sterilized under the now-defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996), the judge ruled the law unconstitutional but dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for a total of 5.5 million yen (approx. $53,000) in damages Nov. 30.

    This is the third case of its kind for which a decision has been handed down, and the second since a court in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, ruled the now-defunct law unconstitutional.

    The plaintiffs are a man in his 80s and his wife in her 70s, who both have hearing impairments, and a 77-year-old woman living in western Japan's Kinki region who has an intellectual disability. They argued that the defunct law violated their reproductive rights, as well as Article 13 of the Constitution, which states, "All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs."

    The eugenics protection law was a legislator-led law enacted in 1948 for the purpose of preventing the birth of children who are "faulty" from a eugenics point of view. Its predecessor, the National Eugenic Law, was modeled after Nazi Germany's sterilization law, and is based on the eugenic thinking that the genes of highly competent people should be protected. The law approved sterilization and abortions on people with psychiatric disorders or mental disabilities, and allowed forced surgeries without people's consent. In 1996, the law was changed to the Mother's Body Protection Law, removing discriminatory aspects of the previous legislation.

    According to the Japanese government's statistics, at least some 25,000 sterilizations were conducted under the now-defunct eugenics protection law.

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

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