KITAKYUSHU – Writer Hiroshi Shima, who was instrumental in the first damages suit filed by former Hansen’s disease patients against the government, died of multiple organ failure Saturday at a hospital in Kitakyushu, his family said. He was 84.
Born in Kagawa Prefecture, Shima, whose real name was Kaoru Kishiue, first learned that he had contracted leprosy in the summer of 1937.
He became a teacher at the predecessor of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology but entered a national center for Hansen’s disease, where patients were segregated from the general public, in Kagawa Prefecture in 1947.
He moved to a similar center in Kagoshima Prefecture the following year.
While living at the Kagoshima center, he founded a literary magazine and published many novels and critical essays. In them, he described the agonies Hansen’s disease patients feel, a result of not being treated as human beings due to the government’s policy of trying to prevent the disease from spreading.
In 1995, he filed a request with the Kyushu Federation of Bar Associations, asking it to announce its opinion on the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law.
Even before the enactment of the segregation law, the government passed another law in 1948 approving eugenic operations on Hansen’s patients even though the illness became curable with the development of medication in 1941.
The plaintiffs, who were forced under the 1953 law to enter national centers between the 1940s and the 1960s, had limited freedom of movement, were sterilized and in some cases forced to undergo abortions.
The government abolished the law in 1996.
Shima filed the suit with the Kumamoto District Court in July 1998 with 12 other former Hansen’s patients seeking damages from the government for violating their human rights. The number of former patients who joined in the suit eventually rose to 127.
The plaintiffs won the suit in May 2001, when the state was ordered to pay a total of 1.82 billion yen in compensation.
The government failed to abolish the law until 1996 even though it was in a position to know, or to infer, that there was no need to isolate patients for treatment, the ruling said.
Shima left the center in June 1999 with his wife, Kiyoko, also a patient, who died in November 2001.
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