Sanatorium residents refuse to move out


With a seven-day deadline about to expire, dozens of Hansen’s disease patients living in the Losheng Sanatorium reaffirmed yesterday their refusal to move out of the four-hectare compound, of which authorities are set to demolish more than half to clear the way for a Taipei Metro construction project.

Lee Tien-pei, president of the patients’ self-help association, said in a news conference that in order to defend their dignity and ensure access to better treatment, the patients refused to move to a new hospital building and some of them may commit “irrational acts” if the government forces them to go.

Taipei City’s Department of Rapid Transit Systems on March 5 issued a notice and urged patients to move out of the sanatorium, that straddles Hsinchuang City in Taipei County and Gueishan Township in Taoyuan County, by March 13. If the residents fail to meet the deadline, it said, the two county governments will on its request issue another 30-day notice before enforcing the relocation of the residents and demolition of the buildings.

According to Taipei County Government, 48 patients still live in the old compound.

Lee said it is unacceptable that “the patients who previously suffered segregation for reasons of ‘public sanitation’ are now being forced to leave for a ‘public construction’.” The sanatorium was built in 1930 by Japanese colonizers to segregate patients with Hansen’s disease, and the Kuomintang regime in its early years in Taiwan inherited the policy. Patients were later allowed to leave, but many of them who undergone chronic isolation and faced discrimination had little choice but to stay, and have grown used to the settings.

Lee, who was sent to the sanatorium in 1949 at the age of 15, said the government should apologize to the patients as well as adopt Japan’s current policy that compensates the patients with not only money but also the right to stay in their familiar environment with assurances of lifetime dignity.

Activists demanding preservation of the sanatorium have fought for several years, the latest high-profile actions being protests outside Premier Su Tseng-chang’s residence Friday and Sunday asking the Executive Yuan to reconsider an alternative.

The Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) in February proposed a solution that would retain 90 percent of the compound, but the proposal was quickly rejected by the Executive Yuan, citing the urgent need to complete the construction.

Preservationists argue that the decision to scrap the CCA proposal was made with a lack of transparency and thus demand an open deliberation.