(Dec. 18, 2019) The Diet, Japan’s parliament, enacted a new law to compensate family members of former Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients in November 2019. (Act on Payments of Compensation for Family Members of Former Hansen’s Disease Patients, Act No. 55 of 2019 (Reiwa 1).) The Act acknowledges that the former government policy that isolated leprosy patients from society created inaccurate understanding of the disease in society, enhanced discrimination, and resulted in placing grave hardship on not only former patients but their family members. (Act No. 55 of 2019, preamble.) The Act covers spouses, parents, children, and siblings of former leprosy patients, as well as other close family members and in-laws that lived with former patients who had developed leprosy by March 31, 1996. (Art. 2, para. 2.) Spouses, parents, children, and spouses’ parents and children who lived with the patients are eligible for 1.8 million yen (about US$16,550) in compensation. Siblings and others are eligible for 1.3 million yen (about US$11,950). (Arts. 3 & 4.) Around 24,000 people are expected to receive a total of 40 billion yen (about US$ 368 million) under the Act.
Background to the Law
Under the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Act (Act No. 214 of 1953), most people afflicted with leprosy in Japan were isolated and forced to move into sanatoria. Though leprosy became regarded as curable in the 1950s by new medicines, patients were still kept in sanatoria. The Act was abolished on April 1, 1996. (Act to Abolish Leprosy Prevention Act, Act No. 28 of 1996.) In 1998, former patients who had been forced to live in sanatoria filed lawsuits against the government, seeking an apology and compensation. In 2001, the Kumamoto District Court decided that the government must compensate former patients. The government decided not to appeal the decision to an upper court. Subsequently, the Diet enacted a law to compensate former leprosy patients who had been kept in sanatoria (Act on Payment of Compensation for Leprosy Sanatoria Residents, Act No. 63 of 2001), and the minister of Health, Labour and Welfare apologized to them. In 2002, the government also made an agreement to compensate former patients who had not been forced to live in sanatoria.
In 2016, family members of former leprosy patients filed lawsuits against the government, seeking compensation and an apology for their own sufferings, claiming that they had suffered discrimination and prejudice under the isolation policy. In June 2019, the Kumamoto District Court decided that the government must compensate the family members of former leprosy patients. (Kumamoto District Court, Civil Division No. 2 (June 28, 2019) summary.) Though the government did not agree with parts of the reasoning in the decision, it decided not to appeal the decision in order to settle the issue more quickly.