The health ministry will not ask for autopsies on the preserved remains of decades-old fetuses and newborns discovered in government sanitariums for people with Hansen’s disease, ministry officials said Wednesday.
An independent panel on Hansen’s disease issues proposed the remains be examined because of suspicions that sanitarium staff aborted or killed them at birth.
The Justice Ministry and the National Police Agency have told the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry that they are doubtful they would be able to build a court case on the deaths so there was no need for the autopsies, the health ministry officials said.
The panel announced last year they had discovered 115 bodies, preserved between approximately 1924 and 1956, at the sanitariums, set up under the government’s now-defunct policy of quarantining people before and after the now-former Leprosy Prevention Law took effect.
Sixteen fetuses were close to nine months gestation and would have most likely died shortly after being born, a panel report claimed.
Health minister Jiro Kawasaki later met with members of a council of residents still living in the sanitariums.
The ministry will notify the relatives of about 70 of the babies whose identities have been established.
Ministry officials and representatives of sanitarium residents held meetings to decide what to do with the remains. Memorial services will be held for them and the ministry plans to build memorials at all the sanitariums.
Japan’s policy of quarantining people with what is now known as Hansen’s disease was set in 1907 and continued with the 1953-96 Leprosy law. During that time, according to reports, patients were forcibly sterilized and given abortions.
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