Friday, March 27, 2009

"A-bomb disease ruling

"Why does the government refuse to recognize people suffering from the aftereffects of radiation exposure following the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as victims eligible for special benefits for their diseases?

"More than 300 survivors of the atomic bombings filed group lawsuits across the country, demanding the government recognize that their respective illnesses were caused by the atomic bombings.

"On March 18, in the 15th ruling in the series of lawsuits, the Hiroshima District Court recognized the plaintiffs' claim and annulled a decision by the minister of health, labor and welfare that rejected their applications for certification as atomic-bomb disease sufferers. It was the 15th straight loss for the government. All of the rulings criticized the way screening for certification is carried out.

"Under the certification system for diseases caused by the atomic bombings, if patients are recognized as having developed an illness such as cancer as a result of radiation exposure, they will be paid monthly benefits of about 137,000 yen in addition to having their medical expenses covered while they are undergoing treatment. The health minister decides each case based on opinions of the medical subcommittee of the certification panel of experts.

"What is noteworthy in the Hiroshima ruling is the fact that it recognized state indemnity for the first time in a series of lawsuits and ordered the government to pay a total of 990,000 yen to three plaintiffs. The ruling noted the following points:

"The Supreme Court criticized the method of assessment to estimate radiation exposure based on the distance of each person from ground zero as being "too mechanical." The health minister should have asked the medical subcommittee to re-examine cases it evaluated using the method in question. The minister failed to fulfill his obligation to exercise due care when he routinely rejected applications by following the opinions of the subcommittee.

"Based on that recognition, the court stated that the degree of illegality "deserves strong disapproval to the extent that it is irredeemable." It also harshly criticized the negligence of the minister for leaving the matter to the subcommittee.

"The government continues to fight in court as if to ignore repeated judicial decisions. The latest court ruling should be seen as a strong message to the government, urging it to accept its defeat with good grace.

"The average age of atomic bomb survivors has topped 75. Already 63 plaintiffs have died. We urge the government to stop its court battles and expedite the certification of more than 7,500 survivors who are waiting to have their applications processed.

"Last April, the health ministry revised its old standards of certification that were criticized as being "mechanical" but we find it questionable that the new standards aptly grasp the actual situation of health damage caused by the atomic bombings. This is because the new standards basically set a limit on the illnesses to be recognized to five specific diseases such as cancer.

"Even after last spring when the new standards were introduced, courts handed rulings to recognize patients suffering from conditions other than the five diseases as atomic-bomb disease sufferers. The plaintiffs are calling on the government to re-examine the standards once again but its response is slow. Another problem is that many members of the subcommittee who stick to the assessment method criticized by the Hiroshima District Court are still in the subcommittee and screening the applications under the new standards. It is natural that groups of atomic bomb survivors are demanding that the subcommittee accept members endorsed by them.

"The government should revise the certification standards so as to address the actual health problems of survivors and have applications screened by a subcommittee comprising new members. It is time for the government to sincerely listen to the voices of the survivors and implement broad relief measures without delay."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 3/26/2009), Link to article (last visited 3/27/2009)

1 comment:

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