National / Crime & Legal

Sendai court rules defunct eugenics law unconstitutional but denies damages due to statute of limitations

Kyodo

A Sendai court determined Tuesday that the now-defunct eugenics protection law, which mandated the government stop people with intellectual disabilities from reproducing, was unconstitutional, but it dismissed a damages suit filed by two women who underwent forced sterilization.

In the first ruling handed down in a number of suits filed with seven district courts nationwide, the Sendai District Court rejected the ¥71.5 million ($653,000) damages suit filed by women in their 60s and 70s in Miyagi Prefecture, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

In the trial, the plaintiffs and lawyers said the 1948 eugenics law deprived the victims of self-determination with regard to giving birth and raising children, violating the Constitution, which guarantees the pursuit of happiness and equality under the law.

They said the state failed to take legislative action to compensate the victims, but the government argued it had no obligation to do so as the victims could seek damages under the state compensation law.

The state also argued it was not obliged to pay compensation due to the 20-year statute of limitations on demands for damages under the Civil Code, pointing out that the victims underwent surgery more than 40 years ago.

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

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

In April, the Diet enacted legislation to pay ¥3.2 million in state compensation to each person who underwent forced sterilization, irrespective of whether they were believed to have agreed to undergo the surgery or not.

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

The law setting out the compensation provisions, drafted by ruling and opposition parties, offers an apology to survivors, but critics say its wording lacks clarity over where responsibility lies.