Hepatitis C bill offering aid, apology clears Diet

Compiled From Staff, Kyodo Reports

The House of Councilors voted unanimously Friday to enact a law to give uniform relief to people who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood products.

With the passage of the hepatitis C bill, about 1,000 people, including the 207 hepatitis C plaintiffs who sued the government and drugmakers, will receive an apology and compensation from the government.

In a statement issued following the law’s enactment, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said: “We must frankly admit the state’s responsibility for causing huge harm to the victims and for failing to prevent the harm from spreading. I express my apologies from my heart.”

With the enactment, the plaintiffs plan to conclude a basic agreement Tuesday with the government to pave the way for the pending lawsuits nationwide to be settled out of court.

Watching the Upper House approve the legislation in the chamber, plaintiffs smiled and some wiped away tears. Michiko Yamaguchi, who leads the plaintiffs’ group, said, “I feel that the five years of fighting (since the lawsuit was filed in 2002) have at last paid off.”

Fukuda plans to meet with the plaintiffs Tuesday.

Stalled negotiations on out-of-court settlements saw a breakthrough after Fukuda announced Dec. 23 his decision as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to seek a lawmaker-sponsored bill to provide blanket relief to the sufferers.

The bill was submitted Monday to the Diet, was passed unanimously Tuesday by the Lower House and was sent to the Upper House for final legislative approval.

Under the law, people who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products, including fibrinogen, will receive compensation ranging from ¥12 million to ¥40 million per person depending on the severity of the case.

The government will provide around ¥20 billion to set up a fund at the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency to pay the relief. The drugmakers will also be required to offer contributions.

Gist of hepatitis C relief law

The following is the gist of a law enacted Friday to offer blanket relief for people with hepatitis C caused by tainted blood products:

* The government admits responsibility for causing huge harm to victims and failing to prevent the harm from spreading.

* The law will provide relief to those who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products, such as fibrinogen.

* Victims entitled to relief are required to submit certification as hepatitis C sufferers, such as court rulings.

* Compensation ranging from ¥12 million to ¥40 million per person will be paid depending on the severity of the case and the balance will be paid if the condition worsens within 10 years.

* A fund will be set up to ensure payments, with the government providing the resources.

* The fund will call for drugmakers to provide contributions.