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TOKOYO (ChurchMilitant.com) - A woman is suing the government of Japan for her forced sterilization in hopes of ending discrimination of the mentally disabled.
On Tuesday, an unnamed 60-year old woman from Miyagi Prefecture filed a suit seeking damages of ¥11 million yen ($101,000 USD) for being sterilized when she was a teenager. She claims she suffered stomach pains and has had a number of marriage proposals withdrawn after they found out she was unable to bear children. This is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed against Japan for its eugenics program that forced the sterilizations of 25,000 people and allowed for the forced abortions of countless others.
She claimed that the law was unconstitutional because it denied human equality and the right to pursue happiness. She is also demanding an investigation into the practices in place under the law.
In 1948, Japan adopted the Eugenics Protection Act that was designed to prevent the birth of "inferior" children. It was modeled after a similar law in Nazi Germany and was finally scrapped in 1996. Sweden had a similar eugenics law, and both Sweden's and Germany's governments have apologized and paid compensation to the victims.
Many of the records have not survived, though records from 1963–1981 show that 859 men and women received surgeries, and over 50 percent were under the age of 20. Some of the youngest were two nine-year-old girls and four 10-year-old boys that were sterilized on the same day as the Miyagi woman.
In her case, she developed "mental problems" after a cleft palate surgery when she was an infant, ultimately being diagnosed with a learning disability at age 15. Her diagnosis of "hereditary feeble-mindedness" was the cause of her sterilization. Just before the lawsuit was filed, the victim's sister-in-law said she felt "the ideology that people with disabilities should be eliminated and should not be alive has remained."
The cultural bias against disabilities is evidenced by many cases of discrimination. While some children are being denied admission to school, others face discrimination in other ways that show Japan has not fully accepted the value of those with disabilities. One boy with Down Syndrome was removed from his class photo because the principal didn't want to "upset" other parents. "The parents of the other children might ask why your son is in the photo with them all together," the principal reportedly said.
The attitude can also be seen in the growing demand for prenatal screening. On Wednesday, it was reported that Japan may soon allow more types of medical institutions to screen for chromosomal abnormalities in unborn babies. Previously, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has restricted these screenings to only facilities with counseling services, as well as limiting access to the screenings if the woman is over 35.
As many women in Japan are waiting longer to have babies, demand for the tests is growing. Despite the substantial risk of receiving a false-positive result and aborting a healthy baby, most women who receive positive test results opt to abort their child. Fears associated with raising a child with Down Syndrome are almost always cited as a reason.
The Japan Down Syndrome Society is doing much to promote individuals with Down Syndrome's "inherent right to be accepted and included as valued and equal members of their communities." Their website states they have about 5,800 members and 55 branches where support and information can be found.
"Japan as a whole must comprehensively review the problems of the eugenics law and the underlying discriminatory views to provide redress to those affected and for the sake of society itself," Ritsumeikan University bioethics Prof. Yoko Matsubara said.
So far, Japan has not paid compensation to the victims nor have they paid any compensation to the victims, citing the sterilizations were legal at the time. Katsunobu Kato, Japan's health minister, refused to comment on the case saying he has not received legal documents and noting they are not planning to investigate what took place under the law, claiming many of the records of forced sterilization have been "discarded."