KUMAMOTO – Several leading psychiatrists and neurologists have condemned experts who endorsed government standards that are said to have excluded many people from recognition as Minamata disease patients, it was learned Sunday.
In a position paper released Saturday, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology claimed that medical experts and doctors had “failed to perform their duties sufficiently and played the role of perpetrators” by endorsing the government’s 1977 standards.
Minamata disease resulted from the dumping of mercury compounds into Minamata Bay in southern Kumamoto Prefecture by chemical firm Chisso Corp. Many people in Minamata died or suffered disabilities because of the disease in the 1950s and 1960s.
A panel of medical experts endorsed the standards in 1985, stating that they were “reasonable from a medical standpoint.” The panel’s view was offered at the behest of the then Environment Agency.
Some researchers have criticized the standards, however, saying they are medically incorrect, overly strict and have increased the number of people left unrecognized as Minamata disease patients.
The adequacy of the standards has also been disputed by many lawsuits filed in connection with the disease.
The disease paralyzes the central nervous system and causes birth defects. Its symptoms include numbness, persistent headaches and impaired balance.
A society panel that has studied the disease obtained the minutes of a subcommittee meeting held under the government’s Central Council for Environment Pollution Control in 1991.
After analyzing the minutes, the panel concluded in its paper that subcommittee members “collaborated with the policy of the Environmental Agency while hiding many facts.”
According to the minutes, the subcommittee chairman, Akihiro Igata, then president of Kagoshima University, said at one point, “I find it difficult to say that what I claimed in a document (submitted to a court) in a grandiose manner was, after all, a lie.”
The society’s paper criticizes this and other statements made by subcommittee members as “disregarding the methodology of natural science that calls for observations based on data.”
It also says that the entire debate was based on the premise that those unrecognized as Minamata disease patients should not be recognized as such, suggesting that the experts’ quiescence had something to do with access to research grants and teaching posts.
“It has become clear that medical experts added unnecessary confusion to the Minamata disease problem and failed to perform their fair societal role,” said Toyoji Nakashima, a society board member and president of prefecture-run Okayama Hospital.
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