TOKYO: Japan’s top court will issue a ruling Wednesday on a defunct eugenics law under which the government forcibly sterilized around 16,500 people, causing decades of suffering for the victims.
The Supreme Court is hearing five appeal cases from victims seeking compensation and an apology after the government sought a single ruling on different decisions made by lower courts.
Japan’s government acknowledges that around 16,500 people were forcibly sterilized under a eugenics law in place between 1948 and 1996.
The law allowed doctors to sterilize people with inheritable intellectual disabilities to “prevent the generation of poor quality descendants.”
Another 8,500 people were sterilized with their consent, according to authorities, although lawyers say even those cases were likely “de facto forced” because of the pressure individuals faced.
A 1953 government notice said physical restraint, anaesthesia and even “deception” could be used for the operations.
“I’ve spent an agonizing 66 years because of the government surgery. I want my life back that I was robbed of,” said Saburo Kita, who uses a pseudonym.
Kita was convinced to undergo a vasectomy when he was 14 at a facility housing troubled children.
He couldn’t bring himself to tell his wife when he was married years later, only confiding in her shortly before she died in 2013.
“Only when the government faces up to what it did and takes responsibility will I be able to accept my life, even just a little,” Kita, now 81, told a news conference last year.

Although the operations were still carried out, the number slowed to a trickle in the 1980s and 1990s before the law was scrapped in 1996.
That dark history was thrust back under the spotlight when a woman in her 60s sued the government in 2018 over a procedure she had undergone at age 15, opening the floodgates for similar lawsuits.
The government, for its part, “wholeheartedly” apologized after legislation was passed in 2019 stipulating a lump-sum payment of 3.2 million yen (around $20,000 today) per victim.
However, survivors say that is too little to match the severity of their suffering and have taken their fight to court.
Apart from Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, several other cases are at different stages in lower courts.
Regional courts have mostly agreed in recent years that the eugenics law constituted a violation of Japan’s constitution.
However, judges have been divided on whether claims are valid beyond a 20-year statute of limitations.
Some have said that applying such limitations is extremely cruel and unfair, ordering the state to pay damages. But others have dismissed cases, saying the window for pursuing damages had closed.
“If the Supreme Court decides that the statute of limitations isn’t applicable at all, then basically all plaintiffs in subsequent cases, and victims who haven’t sued yet or aren’t even aware of damage they had suffered, can benefit,” Kita’s lawyer, Naoto Sekiya, told AFP.
Critics say the eugenics law laid the foundation for discriminatory attitudes against people with disabilities that linger still.
“The ruling will hopefully pave the way for active steps to be taken by the government to eliminate the kind of eugenic mentality that it created,” Sekiya said.



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