Former Hansen’s disease patients shun return to society, survey shows


Only about a sixth of former Hansen’s disease patients surveyed at 15 sanitariums nationwide wish to return to society, a Tokyo-based foundation charged with investigating the repercussions of the disease said Thursday.

The survey, conducted by the Tofu Association in April last year, showed that 170 people have no intention of returning to society, while about 70 are not thinking about returning at present. Some 10 did not respond.

Association officials attribute the small number of respondents — a mere 50 — who said they are willing to return to society to a lack of family ties due to long periods of segregation, as well as forced sterilization and abortion in order to eradicate what the government considered a “hereditary” disease.

The results of the survey were released prior to a ruling to be given today in a civil suit filed at the Kumamoto District Court, in which a group of former Hansen’s disease patients are seeking monetary compensation for damages caused by the Leprosy Prevention Law that took effect in 1907 and was revised in 1953. The law, which was abolished in April 1996, required that patients with the condition be isolated.

The 127 plaintiffs demand that the state pay them 115 million yen in redress for violating their basic human rights that should have been guaranteed under the Constitution.

The officials also cited a lack of housing and jobs as other reasons for the former patients not wanting to return to society.

At present, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry provides former patients wanting to leave the sanitariums with a maximum 2.5 million yen per person as a stopgap fund.

But of some 4,400 patients nationwide, so far only 17 have left the sanitariums, ministry officials said.

Michihiro Ko, secretary general of a council linking former Hansen’s disease patients throughout Japan, said: “There are only a few people who can return to society because of a lack of adequate support by the government. Also, the government has not taken enough measures to enlighten the public on the still-remaining prejudice against the former patients.”

It was only in 1996 that the controversial Eugenic Protection Law of 1948, which allowed abortion and sterilization in cases of hereditary diseases, was revised. The eugenics portion was cut and the law was renamed a maternal protection law.

Similar civil suits are under way before the Tokyo District Court and the Okayama District Court.