Eugenics is the science of utilizing selective breeding to improve a population or demographic of the human race. Sir Francis Galton, an English explorer and anthropologist, coined the term “eugenics” in 1883. His intent for the field was primarily positive and predominantly emphasized the benefits selective parenthood could have on the physical and mental composition of future offspring.
In 1948, the Eugenic Protection Law (EPL) was implemented by the Japanese government to “prevent birth of inferior descendants from the eugenic point of view, and to protect life and health of mother, as well.” The Japanese government drafted this law to help curtail anticipated population increases following WWII. They were not only concerned with potential overpopulation, but also with the effect that a dramatic influx of offspring would have on the composition of the population.
Under the EPL, eugenic operations such as sterilization were conducted on both voluntary and involuntary subjects. volunteers could undergo the procedures if they did not have a family history of mental illness, genetic physical deformities, or any potential dangers to their life from the pregnancy. Involuntary victims, however, would be unknowingly subjected to sterilizations or abortions without giving consent.
The EPL not only protected those who conducted involuntary sterilization, it also detailed how it should be performed. Involuntary sterilization was legal if a physician considered it necessary and the Eugenic Protection Commission concurred. Diseases that were listed as acceptable reasons for involuntary sterilization included Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, albinism, and deafness. According to documentation,n16,520 involuntary sterilizations were conducted between 1994 and 1995.
The Eugenic Protection Law existed until 1996, when it was rewritten as the current Maternal Protection Law (MPL). Although the MPL doesn’t directly support eugenics, it still tacitly reflects eugenic principles. It is important to note that abortion in Japan was illegal during the time that EPL was enforced and is still illegal. Abortions were and are only considered legal when they meet the criteria defined under the previous EPL and current Maternal Protectional Law respectively.
After the EPL was rewritten to the more watered down MPL, the Japanese government offered no apology or compensation for the victims of EPL. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has taken action to correct this, and according to the Japan Times in 2016 they pressured Japan to take “specific measures aimed at providing all victims of forced sterilizations with assistance to access legal remedies and provide them with compensation and rehabilitative services.” In addition to this, a lawsuit was recently filed by a victim of forced sterilization to try and receive compensation from the Japanese government, potentially the first of many. This case will set an important precedent for all of the victims of EPL and will demonstrate the Japanese government’s current position on the topic.
With the current volatile political state and conversations centering race in the United States, the issues that are present in Japan may not be as far removed as they appear. It is important to remove personal bias from science, particularly from healthcare and healthcare legislation. Biases hold dangerous potential to negatively and permanently impact a person’s life. While it is impossible to completely remove all bias from science and legislation, vigilant attention must be given in order to prevent the creation of laws that target specific demographics.