Japan’s medical community must apologize for its involvement in forced sterilizations under the now-defunct eugenic protection law, the Japanese Medical Science Federation said Thursday.
A federation panel tasked with reviewing the issue said in a report that a heartfelt apology is needed as medical professionals were involved in the drawing up and execution of the law, which forced mainly people with disabilities to undergo surgeries or other steps for sterilization.
The panel also proposed the establishment of a body bringing together many medical societies to review ethical issues regarding prenatal diagnoses, genome editing and other areas that may be closely linked to eugenics.
The report found that medical professionals were involved in forced sterilizations out of a false sense of mission, as many mistakenly believed that such procedures were necessary for the public interest due to the existence of the eugenic protection law. It added that, while some in the medical field questioned the forced sterilizations, “their voices were not strong enough to be heard by all of society.”
“It is our responsibility to make sure this will never happen again,” said Morito Monden, the federation’s chairman, at a news conference after receiving the report. He said the federation will consider the issue of offering an apology, adding that a body to review ethical issues “should exist.”
The federation, comprising 136 medical societies such as the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, set up the panel in April 2019. It held hearings from researchers in the field of psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology as well as from people with disabilities.
The eugenic protection law was introduced to prevent the births of disabled people and to protect maternal health. Some 25,000 people underwent surgeries, some without consent, between the law’s inception in 1948 and its revision in 1996.
A law was enacted in April 2019 to pay ¥3.2 million in compensation to each victim. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe then issued a statement offering an apology.