The Hiroshima High Court has ruled in favor of expanding the eligibility criteria for health care aid for atomic bomb survivors who were exposed to radioactive "black rain" that fell shortly after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The court backed the lower court's decision to fully recognize the survivors' right to aid. The national government, which has been severely criticized over the way it has handled relief up till now, should proactively provide aid to affected people.
In July 2020, the Hiroshima District Court recognized that 84 residents and others who had been exposed to black rain in areas outside those eligible for welfare were in fact hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, and ordered that they be supplied with health care benefits given to other survivors. Dissatisfied with the ruling, the national government lodged an appeal.
Of particular note in the high court's ruling is that it eased the requirements for recognition as a hibakusha. The district court ruling had based its judgement on whether "adverse health conditions could arise," but the high court lowered the hurdle by deciding that recognition could be granted if atomic bomb radiation could not be ruled out as a factor in their ill health.
It also ruled that individuals outside areas previously deemed eligible for aid would be deemed hibakusha "if they encountered 'black rain.'" The reason given for this was that the rain may have contained radioactive material. The path to aid was further widened by removing the development of specific illnesses from requirements for recognition.
The Atomic Bomb Survivors' Assistance Act was enacted with acknowledgement that individuals with ill health as a result of the atomic bombing had been affected by a special kind of health damage differing from other kinds of war-related damage. The idea was that the national government would take responsibility and provide aid.
The national government, however, has sought a strictly scientific backing for recognizing hibakusha, and has limited eligibility for aid.
In response to the district court's decision, an expert panel at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has been discussing expanding the scope of areas eligible for assistance. But if the purport of the ruling is to be implemented, then already there seems to be no need to draw lines anymore. There needs to be a fundamental rethink of how eligibility is granted.
The government should pay attention to the actual conditions people are in, rather than focusing on scientific views. It must earnestly listen to the criticisms made in the high court ruling, which included: "Scientific knowledge should not be employed to deny eligibility, but to acknowledge people as hibakusha."
2021 will mark 76 years since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Plaintiffs suffering with health problems said at the hearing, "We have struggled to live day to day to reach this point." Fourteen plaintiffs have died unable to see the high court decision come to pass.
The defendants in the case were the Hiroshima Prefectural Government and the Hiroshima Municipal Government, which examine whether to grant hibakusha health care aid. But the decision on whether to make a final appeal lies, in reality, with the national government.
Hibakusha are advancing in age, and have only a limited time left. The government should prioritize giving relief, and abandon ideas of a final appeal to the Supreme Court.