What would you do if someone important to you was sterilized, without them ever knowing about it?
Our investigation found that Japan’s government not only infringed the human rights of people subjected to forced sterilizations, but also their families. Some prefectural review boards collected information about the criminal and health records of the victims under directions from the health and labor ministry. The ministry wanted to know if disabilities and illness they suffered were hereditary.
Forced sterilization surgeries: Article 1 of the Eugenic Protection Law states its purpose is to “prevent the birth of defective descendants,” as it applied to people with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities such as schizophrenia, learning disabilities, manic depression, epilepsy, and hemophilia. The surgeries were conducted regardless of whether or not the concerned individuals gave their consent, as long as the relevant eugenic protection review board set up at the local government level gave a green light. Doctors were required to report to the review board when they found a person with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities, according to article 4 of the law. Doctors were also allowed to use anesthesia, physical restraints, or to deceive individuals who were non-compliant, instructed a notice sent to local governments by the health ministry (Dated October 24th, 1949).
This meant that if individuals refused to undergo sterilization, doctors were allowed to not only physically restrain or anesthetize them but even trick them into the operation. For men, the surgeries involved vasectomies; for women, it involved tying the fallopian tubes to block ova. Source: Saburobei Nakayama Modern Obstetrics and Gynaecology Encyclopedia Vol. 9 Infertility and Contraception (Nakayama Books, 1970)/ Eugenic Protection Law Enforcement Regulations.
DISCLAIMER: Documents obtained by Waseda Chronicle include discriminatory expressions. In order to illustrate the situation fairly and accurately, we refrained from editing or censoring them.
The health and labor ministry ordered doctors to “log family members who had killed themselves or committed crimes.”
One year after the Eugenic Protection Law came into effect on January 20, 1949, Health and Labor Minister Joji Hayashi ordered doctors to provide detailed information about the patients’ family members. , Unlike ministry notices, the order was legally binding(*1).
The order mandated the report to include the names ages of family members and relatives who suffered from hereditary diseases, or who had criminal records, were alcoholic, or missing – along with the relationship to the patient due for the surgery. The names of the hereditary diseases had to be specified and if the names were unknown, the report had to stipulate that. The order said the names could be limited to family members who were already known.
Following the order, doctors submitted the reports to the prefectural review boards, which made decisions on forced sterilization. The reports contained the criminal and medical records of the families and their relatives.
Creating a family tree
The Kanagawa Prefecture Archives kept the family trees of the patients who were subjected to sterilization reviews in 1970.
For example, the doctor of a woman he diagnosed as suffering from mental tardiness sent her application to the review board on October 20, 1970. The Kawasaki doctor also submitted her family tree.
The family tree included her grandparents and detailed medical records of her relatives and brothers and sisters. It said her sister developed a hearing loss, and her relatives had died from a variety of conditions, including inflated peritoneum, stomach cancer, and diseases of the spinal cord. The family tree also cited family members who were healthy.
In 1970, the review board took a look at 10 cases, including that of this woman. Nine had family trees created by doctors. The one person diagnosed as suffering from mental tardiness, however, had no family or living relatives, according to the record.
“Has a relative on the paternal side who is a persistent criminal offender and her condition is suspected to be hereditary.”
Fukuoka Prefecture asked doctors slated to conduct the sterilization surgeries to create family trees of the subjects for the review board.
On Aug. 8, 1980, a doctor working in a Fukuoka prefectural hospital reported the case of 39-year-old woman who was diagnosed as suffering from mental tardiness. According to a document filed by the doctor, she was working for a food company but was hospitalized because her condition no longer allowed her to make sound judgments.
The family tree chart the doctor created mentioned the patient’s family members. It said:
“Her younger sister suffers from the same level of mental tardiness. She was also hospitalized for a long period and still sees a doctor,” a note said.
“Her cousin from her maternal side (mother’s brothers son) has repeatedly committed criminal offenses and is now serving time,” another note said.
The doctor concluded: “The subject and her sister both suffer from mental tardiness, which is suspected to be hereditary even though the root cause is not known. He is also suspected of suffering from mental tardiness because her cousin has repeatedly committed crimes.”
That’s how the review board authorized the surgery.
Fukushima Prefecture researched substance, alcohol and drug abuse as well as radiation damage
Fukushima Prefecture was looking into families with histories of substance abuse, as well as radiation damage. The prefecture kept review board documents between 1962 and 1979. In 1970, the prefecture ordered the board to submit reports on the hereditary status of forced sterilization subjects based on Article 4 of the Eugenic Protection Law. The doctors were told to record the education backgrounds, occupations and health of both maternal and paternal families members. The following information was noted:
Substance, alcohol and drug abuse and radiation damage in their parents
Disability from embryonal period, including measles and toxoplasmosis
Disability at birth, including difficult labor, asphyxia, assisted delivery.
Disability during the toddler period aged from 1 year old to 3 years, including serious measles, fever, cerebral meningitis, and brain injury.
Waseda Chronicle confirmed that Gunma and Saitama prefectures were collecting similar information, but we could not get detailed information as the documents were redacted.
In 1948, three years after World War II, Japan enacted the Eugenic Protection Law, which allowed the state to forcefully sterilize mentally and/or intellectually disabled people. In 1996, the law was amended into the Maternal Health Act, effectively banning involuntary sterilization. Before the amendment, however, more than 16,500 people underwent forced surgery by the state. Some victims were not even told they would be unable to have children after the surgery. Creative interpretations of the law by authorities also permitted deception and trickery of victims.
The purpose of the Eugenic Protection Law was to “prevent the birth of defective descendants” (Article 1), originating from the postwar political ideology of “reviving the Japanese race.” The law only applied to those deemed by the state to have hereditary genetic disorders and disabilities, but eventually people with non-hereditary genetic disorders and disabilities, and even some who couldn’t clearly be categorized as disabled, fell victim.
Many are still alive today, but the government has yet to offer compensation or an apology. In our special investigation series, “Forced Sterilization”, we pursue the government’s responsibility in violating the victims’ human rights – guaranteed by the constitution – for the ostensible purpose of the “public good.”
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The original Japanese version of the article was published on February. 15, 2018.
(Link: series”Forced Sterilization“)
*1 National Government Organization Act