The Yomiuri ShimbunThe now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law, which forced disabled persons and others to undergo unjust surgical sterilization, runs counter to the Constitution. However, the period of time during which compensation claims could be made has passed. A court of law has rendered this judgment.
The case in point is a lawsuit filed by victims who underwent sterilization operations, demanding the central government pay them reparations. The Sendai District Court decided that its ruling must go against the plaintiffs. Despite the sentence having caused the plaintiffs great disappointment, there is no small significance to the fact that the former law has been acknowledged to be unconstitutional by a court for the first time.
The aim of the former law, which took effect in 1948, was to prevent the birth of inferior offspring, and a total of about 25,000 people underwent surgical sterilization. In many cases, no informed consent was obtained from the people undergoing surgery, or no sufficient explanation offered to them.
The latest ruling had every reason to criticize the law as “having offended the personal dignity [of the victims] by unilaterally depriving them of the possibility of giving birth to and raising children.”
It was not until 1996 when the former law was revised and renamed the Maternity Protection Law, based on the understanding that it constituted a form of discrimination against the disabled. The discriminatory legislation had been kept in place for close to 50 years. The view expressed in the ruling should be taken seriously, as it said, “Eugenic thoughts had firmly persisted in society.”
However, referring to the fact that neither the Diet nor any other organ had created a law for paying compensation to victims even after the revision of the law, the latest ruling concluded that such a failure to act is not illegal. It is safe to say that the decision viewed the Diet’s discretion in the creation of laws from a broader standpoint.
Exclusion too severe
The wall of a “period of exclusion” also stood in the path of the litigants. The term refers to a provision enacted in the Civil Code, which states the right to seek damages expires with the passage of 20 years following the commission of an unlawful act.
The plaintiffs — one women in her 60s and the other in her 70s — underwent surgical sterilization during their teens. When their suits were filed, about 50 years had passed since their surgery, and 20 years since the revision of the law.
The latest ruling strictly applied the provision to their cases, and did not treat the plaintiffs as exceptions. It seems to have attached importance to the purpose of setting the period of exclusion, which seeks to impose a certain check on compensation and other claims for events in the distant past.
However, it was in the first place difficult for disabled persons and others to recognize the illegality of sterilization operations based on the former law, which was treated as lawful in those days, and to bring the harm they suffered before a court. Many pertinent documents have been thrown away, and it is no easy task to prove victims underwent sterilization.
In consideration of these circumstances, applying the term-of-exclusion rule to victims seems too severe for them.
Dissatisfied with the latest decision, the plaintiffs’ side intends to appeal to a higher court. Similar lawsuits are underway in seven district courts in the nation, and it will likely take time until the judicial judgments in these cases are finalized.
Spurred by the latest lawsuit, a law was established to give relief to victims in April, with a lump-sum payment of ¥3.2 million for each person as a main pillar of the aid. Most victims are elderly. It is important to swiftly and steadily proceed with relief procedures.The Yomiuri Shimbun