The Kumamoto District Court in Japan has ordered compensation to two people who were forcibly sterilized 40 years ago due to disability under the then-existing Eugenic Protection Law. The Kumamoto court Monday found the eugenics legislation to be unconstitutional and awarded ¥22 million ($170,000) in damages.
Of the two, one was forced to undergo sterilization at the age of 10 years old. The second, while pregnant with her second child, was forced to have an abortion and sterilized because her first child had a disability.
Enacted in 1948 post-war Japan, the Eugenic Protection Law’s objective was to “prevent the increase of the inferior descendants from the eugenic point of view.” The law permitted forced sterilization for persons with hereditary diseases, persons with relatives who had hereditary diseases, and those with leprosy, amongst others. In 1996, the law was replaced by the Maternal Protection Law, which abolished forced sterilization of persons with disabilities. More recently, in 2019, Japan enacted The Law Concerning the Payment of Lump-Sum Grants to Persons Undergoing Eugenic Surgery Based on the Former Eugenic Protection Law, creating a compensation scheme for survivors who received eugenics surgery between 1948 and 1996. The preamble of the 2019 law states:
Based on the former Eugenics Protection Law enacted in 1948, or against the background of the existence of the former Eugenics Protection Law, in 1996 many people were forced to obey the former Eugenics Protection Law for reasons such as having specific diseases and disabilities. Until the regulations on eugenic surgery were abolished, they were forced to undergo sterilization surgery or irradiation, and suffered great physical and mental pain.
In response, we sincerely reflect on this from our respective standpoints and sincerely apologize.
In the future, the honor and dignity of these people will be respected, and all citizens will respect each other’s personalities and individuality without being discriminated against based on the presence or absence of illness or disability so that such a situation will not be repeated. We will renew our resolve to make every effort to realize a society in which people live together while interacting with each other.
We hereby enact this law with the deep awareness that the government is in a position to deal with this problem in good faith.
Under the Japanese Constitution, Article 13 stipulates that all persons shall be respected as individuals and guarantees the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Further, Article 14 provides that all persons are considered equal under the law. It is estimated that 16,500 individuals were sterilized without their consent during the 48 years Japan’s eugenics law remained in effect.