Uteruses belong to the nation: the tragedy of compulsory sterilization in Japan

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photo by TPG

Last December, a 60-year-old Japanese woman who was diagnosed as hereditary intellectual disability publicized that she undertook forced ligation at 15 due to the policy of compulsory sterilization in order to prevent the reproduction of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.

For the lack of fertility, she could not get married for whole life, and she was going to file a national suit for it.

According to Japan Bar Association, during the period of the enforcement of the eugenics law from 1948 to 1999, about 84 thousand cases of sterilization surgery were underdone in 50 years. Among them, there are more than 16 thousand cases underdone without patients’ permission of which women’s occupied 70 percent. This case as the first one not only asked for remedy but made the Japanese government face up to this history.

The policy of compulsory sterilization in Japanese history has been trace back to Meiji Restoration; the nation began to take population issue as a part of administration. The most representative example was to introduce offenses of abortion for enhancing national power following the Western law.

In 1930s, to prevent population elimination for reproduction of inferior humans, the JSHHE take the initiative in that the mental illness victims and perpetrators should be coerced to be sterilized. Led by the medical profession, those non-genetic diseases like leprosy, mental illness and intellectual disability were all classified in the range of application of sterilization surgery.

photo by TPG

The intellectual disability of the complainant in this case resulted from the sequelae from surgical anesthesia in childhood but she was still forced to accept the sterilization surgery. However she got a diagnosis which recorded that the reasons for sterilization was hereditary intellectual disability, but nobody has the related diseases in her family. The folks had a query about that ”hereditary” on the diagnosis was trumped up by the doctor for the operation under the national policy of compulsory sterilization.

Suffering from mild intellectual disability, Miss Lizuka undertook the forced ligation under age with father’s permission. Her father left a letter before death to her leading a painful life, stating that he was forced to stamp at that time. The reporter also gave a visit to psychiatrist Okada who has been involved preoperative diagnosis, “at the time, no one thought that there was a problem with the eugenics law, and so do I. I also felt that it was a matter of course that these people should be given sterilization.

Under the atmosphere of “of course”, it was possible that those so-called “permissions from oneself or folks” were under pressure of doctors, relatives and others in the society. People might think if the newborns have congenital diseases, they would bring a lot of troubles to the society. However, the roots of those worries are still the discriminating thoughts based on eugenics from the society which has the responsibility to provide a safe and equal environment for the disabled.

photo by TPG

In 1986, under the call of the members of the DPI Japan conference, the “DPI female disabilities net” was funded and proposed the requirement of amending eugenics law for sterilization and abortion surgery two major issues. In 1996, the Japanese government finally passed the new law in which the relevant provisions of sterilization surgery were removed, and sterilization surgeries from nation to the disabled became history.

The physical and mental trauma of those of deprivation of fertility for decades wouldn’t fade away with the amendment of law. However, Japanese government thought that the past forced sterilization surgeries were all conducted according to law and the government don’t have to apologize or make compensation without making any mistakes.

The Japanese eugenics legal system, which aims to eliminate inferior nationals, not only harmed the disabled but also encouraged social discrimination. Although forced sterilization has been abolished, discrimination based on “good will” persists. For example, there are people with disabilities were queried by the doctor how the disabled have sex.

People with disabilities also have sexual desire and have the right to childbirth like others. Their autonomy is not arbitrarily deprived for intellectual or physical disability. To provide an environment in which people with disabilities can also be independent is the responsibility of the nation.

photo by TPG