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Court rejects damages suit by man in forced sterilization case

23 Comments

A Japanese court on Tuesday rejected a 30 million yen damages suit filed by a 77-year-old man who was sterilized against his will in 1957 under the now-defunct eugenics protection law.

The Tokyo District Court did not rule on whether the obsolete law that mandated the government to stop people with intellectual disabilities from reproducing was unconstitutional, a focal point in this case.

But Presiding Judge Masaharu Ito said in the ruling that the sterilization surgery "infringed upon the freedom to have a child ensured by the Constitution."

The court rejected the man's damages claim, deeming that the statute of limitations expired 20 years after the surgery.

His lawyers said they will file an appeal.

The plaintiff underwent surgery aged around 14 when he was at a children's home in Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, without being informed in advance.

He filed the lawsuit in May 2018, claiming the government had violated the Constitution, which guarantees the pursuit of happiness and equality under the law.

In the trial, the man had argued that the statute of limitations has not expired as "he did not have the luxury of knowing about the details of the operation or level of damage until recently." He added that if it has expired, the responsibility lies with Japan's parliament, which delayed enacting legislation to compensate victims.

The state did not respond to claims about whether the eugenics law violated the Constitution, and said it was not obliged to pay compensation due to the 20-year statute of limitations on demands for damages under the Civil Code.

It also denied that parliament was responsible, saying "enacting legislation to provide additional relief other than state compensation was not considered essential."

The ruling was the second in 24 similar suits filed with eight district courts in Japan.

In the first ruling in May 2019, the Sendai District Court also rejected a 71.5 million yen damages suit filed by women in their 60s and 70s in Miyagi, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

Between 1948 and 1996, the eugenics law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary disorders to prevent births of "inferior" offspring.

About 25,000 people with disabilities were sterilized under the eugenics protection law, including around 16,500 who were operated on without their consent, according to the health ministry and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

After neglecting the issue for many years, Japan's parliament finally enacted legislation in April last year to pay 3.2 million yen in state compensation to each person who underwent forced sterilization, irrespective of whether they were believed to have agreed to undergo surgery or not.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued an apology in a statement expressing regret, but did not mention the legal liability of the state.

In June this year, both houses of parliament launched an investigation into the legislative history and the scope of damage.

A panel of the Japanese Medical Science Federation also released a report last Thursday saying that medical personnel, who had been involved with enacting and enforcing the now-defunct law, had neglected to address the issue even after the concept of human rights had become widespread in Japan.

© KYODO

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
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Well, the Statute of Limitations is an important legal barrier.

-15 ( +1 / -16 )

The sword is mightier than the constitution...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So those in power don't want to admit in anyway their fathers and grandfathers were so ethically out of touch they felt it was OK to sterilis a 14yo. My how things have not changed.

25 ( +25 / -0 )

This is a classic example of not doing the right thing. Just following legal beauracratic statutes.

20 ( +21 / -1 )

I don't get it

"The state did not respond to claims about whether the eugenics law violated the Constitution."

and yet

The judge said that "[sterilization] infringed upon the freedom to have a child ensured by the Constitution."

Does this mean that a different challenge against the constitutionality (rather than about compensation) would have a better chance of winning?

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Wow... this is just criminal... If Japan is willing to pay Korea (several times) for WW2 I'm pretty sure they should pay this guy.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

The irony is, 20 years after the surgery it was still law, meaning the court would have just said "it's the law"... Japan needs to admit fault.

18 ( +18 / -0 )

That's terrible. I'm not surprised by Japanese law though, as it seems to be even worse than the state of the law in other countries.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

obladiToday  06:28 pm JST

"The state did not respond to claims about whether the eugenics law violated the Constitution."

and yet

The judge said that "[sterilization] infringed upon the freedom to have a child ensured by the Constitution."

Based on what's here:

The first line concerns the abstract act of the law. The second line is about the concrete act of sterilizing the plaintiff. The second is much easier to win, simply because of how much more declaring the unconstitutionality of an abstract act means.

First, let's be brutal about it - as a demographic, people who have a disability are a lot more likely to have kids with one. Further, they are much less likely to be able to take care of them, and disabled kids are a lot less likely to be societally productive.

Second, in 1948, there wasn't that much food and other resources to go around. Would you not argue that society's interests are in concentrating resources on the healthy?

Thus, to say the abstract act is unconstitutional would be to say that even in a situation of dire straits, the right of disabled individuals to autonomy should be prioritized even if there is a high chance they would become a burden on everyone else (when everyone else did not have a lot to spare).

A court would be very slow in making such a determination.

A concrete act on the other hand, can be challenged from so much more. For example, things are less desperate by 1957. Further, the individual decision to sterilize the plaintiff may be faulty to begin with. Maybe his disability is not hereditary. Maybe it is hereditary but the child if borne still has a decent chance of being societally useful. And so on.

Finally, to say it is unconstitutional does not forbid the government from enacting acts in times of desperation.

-15 ( +3 / -18 )

Let's see what happens at the appeal. Why did the guy wait so long?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Could always shame japan into acting at the international court. Air the dirty laundry.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

This is not good for the clean outside image.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Shame, shame, shame!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Kasuraki that has to be one of the most disgusting posts I have ever seen. Get a dictionary and look up empathy.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

So the government had the right to cut off our balls until recently, ~1996.

I'm so scared of the inhumanity of the system.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The state did not respond to claims about whether the eugenics law violated the Constitution." 

and yet 

The judge said that "[sterilization] infringed upon the freedom to have a child ensured by the Constitution."

Does this mean that a different challenge against the constitutionality (rather than about compensation) would have a better chance of winning?

Yes, but no. They would likely win a case challenging the constitutionality of the law. But the remedy the Court would give in such a case would be to declare the law unconstitutional and require the Diet to amend or repeal it. Since the law has already been repealed, this would have no effect at all, so it would be kind of a pointless lawsuit. To get compensation, they would have to bring a case under the Civil Code, as they did in this case. If they had brought it within the 20 year limitation period, I think they likely would have won on the merits.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@rainyday

Thanks. That makes sense legally. Kind of sucks for the plaintiff, but probably not the first time for him to be disappointed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Between 1948 and 1996, the eugenics law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary disorders to prevent births of "inferior" offspring.

I thought the 1948 law changed things so that the two considerations were, where due to genetic disorder, pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother or the child's life would not be viable without suffering. I don't think "inferior" was used. There has been a lot of controversy about how the law was implemented, in particular because surgeons could go ahead without the permission of the patient.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

At some point, the past is the past. Remember the mistakes, but everyone in history, except a very few privileged people/families, have been wronged. 20 yrs seems a generous period.

Rape has a shorter statute of limitation and has a much longer emotional impact.

Murder has no statute of limitation, but when the murder dies, that effectively does it, really 60-80 yrs is the limitation.

Govt and laws are always evolving as the times dictate. Using the culture and morals of today against prior generations and cultures seems unfair. It was a different time, with different needs, and different sensibilities.

Should a 10 yr old be held accountable for stealing candy for their rest of their lives?

Should aggressor countries in prior wars be held accountable indefinitely?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

So the courts back the govt...….big surprise.....NOT!

This kind of thinking was a legacy of things like unit 731......sad

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Ok, child p0rn ban in Japan was passed in 2015 (meaning that before that, it was legal...), but i'm still shocked at the fact that there were forced sterilization eugenics-based laws up until 1996! Like whoa. But I do remember that wwii it joined that other side, but after the war, it seems America took over, so then why, why such laws existed?

PS "Japanese people need to be more educated" as I was told by the Japanese people themselves about various such matters, doesn't make a very valid argument. It hasn't been closed off from the world then, and for a long time, there's access to internet which doesn't seem to be firewalled, so no excuses.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Sounds like he has a case.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

, but i'm still shocked at the fact that there were forced sterilization eugenics-based laws up until 1996! Like whoa. But I do remember that wwii it joined that other side, but after the war, it seems America took over, so then why, why such laws existed?

US did do a lot of sterilization as well --this is from Wikipedia

... The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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