On March 27, the Kochi District Court declared that a man who entered the city of Hiroshima just one hour after the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing is a sufferer of an illness caused by radiation. Similar suits have been filed by some 300 people at 17 district courts. They are challenging the state’s refusal to accept their requests to certify them as sufferers of illnesses caused by the atomic bombings.
The ruling marks the state’s 16th consecutive defeat in lawsuits over the A-bomb radiation illness certification. The state’s past behavior on the issue highlights its determination to take the legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. But survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings are elderly and time is running out. The government should reconsider its opposition to drastically expanding the scope of illness certification.
The Kochi court ruled that the ischemic heart disease suffered by the man, who was engaged in the relief work for atomic bombing victims within a radius of 2 kilometers from ground zero, was caused by extended exposure to a low level of radiation from the atomic bombing. He died in 2004 and his family filed the lawsuit.
Ischemic heart disease is outside the scope of current government criteria for certification of sufferers from illnesses caused by A-bomb radiation. The ruling accepted that either extended exposure to a low level of radiation or brief exposure to a high level of radiation can cause a similar degree of illness. It said that mechanical application of criteria cannot accurately assess the health damage suffered by A-bomb survivors.
On March 18, the Hiroshima District Court issued a ruling that carries severe implications for the state. It recognized five people as sufferers of diseases caused by exposure to A-bomb radiation. In the cases of two of the five victims, the court admitted that a link existed between the atomic bombing and chronic hepatitis and chronic C-type hepatitis — illnesses outside the scope of current certification criteria. The court even ordered the state to pay ¥990,000 in compensation to the remaining three victims.
In ordering the payment of compensation, the court said the state turned down requests for certification as sufferers of atomic bomb-caused illnesses in a desultory manner. It also said that by failing to quickly act following a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that pointed out problems with the certification criteria used at that time, the state failed to fulfill its duty to act appropriately.
On March 12, the Tokyo High Court supported a lower court ruling that recognized two people, who have hepatic cirrhosis, as sufferers of an illness caused by A-bomb radiation. It was the first high court ruling that accepted a link between hepatic cirrhosis and the atomic bombings.
The government has appealed both the Hiroshima District Court ruling and the Tokyo High Court ruling to higher courts, showing its opposition to the judicial trend of recognizing many additional illnesses whose causes had not been linked, under the current scope of criteria, to A-bomb radiation exposure.
Under the Atomic Bomb Victims Relief Law, a person certified as having illnesses caused by A-bomb radiation receives a monthly special medical allowance of about ¥137,000. In the past, the DS86 dosimetry system, which determines the radiation dose on the basis of a person’s distance from ground zero, was used for certification purposes. For people exposed to radiation at a point 2 kilometers or more from ground zero, no link was recognized between their illnesses and the atomic bombings.
The 2000 Supreme Court ruling said that DS86’s mechanical application could not sufficiently evaluate the health damage suffered by A-bomb survivors. The next year, the health and welfare ministry adopted a new policy, but only a few more people received certification.
Groups of A-bomb survivors filed lawsuits in 2003 and the state lost six times in a row at the district court level. Only after that, in April 2008, did the health and welfare ministry adopt new criteria under which the state is supposed to readily recognize people as sufferers of atomic bomb-related diseases if they were exposed to radiation within a radius of 3.5 kilometers from ground zero and suffer from five types of diseases including cancer, leukemia and hyperparathyroidism.
After the introduction of the new criteria, 2,969 cases were certified, about 23 times the 128 certified in 2007. But lawyers say that more than 50 A-bomb survivors who were victorious in lawsuits have not received certifications and that more than 7,500 people applicants have not received examinations.
At the very least, the state should hasten the procedures for the lawsuit winners and the applicants on waiting lists. It also should consider widening the scope of the criteria to include additional illnesses. The March 18 ruling calling for compensation payment should be taken as a stern warning to the state to take steps to resolve this inhumane situation.
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