Review of A-bomb sufferer criteria needed
As atomic bomb survivors grow older, the state should not prolong legal battles with them.
The Tokyo High Court handed down a ruling Thursday regarding the recognition of people suffering from illnesses caused by radiation in the 1945 atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that helps atomic bomb victims on a level that far outstrips the state's criteria for recognition.
Atomic bomb survivors who are not recognized by the state as suffering illnesses due to radiation from the bombings have filed group lawsuits across the nation. Before Thursday, 17 rulings had been handed down by district and high courts, with most of the plaintiffs receiving favorable decisions.
Thursday's ruling by the Tokyo High Court recognized that nine of the 10 plaintiffs, who were not recognized by the state, as suffering from illnesses due to radiation from the bombings.
The ruling strongly urges the state to review the criteria for recognition of atomic bomb disease sufferers. The government needs to take this ruling seriously.
Opening the door wider
Under the Atomic Bomb Victims Relief Law, people qualified for recognition as atomic bomb victims are those who were near ground zero in Hiroshima or Nagasaki on the days of the bombings and the two weeks after. These certified survivors are provided with atomic bomb survivor health handbooks and are entitled to free medical treatment. The majority of the survivors receive monthly health care stipends of about 34,000 yen.
If these survivors have diseases that are recognized as due to radiation exposure, they are entitled to receive a special medical allowance of about 140,000 yen per month instead of the monthly health care stipends.
Currently, about 240,000 people have atomic bomb survivor health handbooks. However, strict criteria, such as the distance the atomic bomb survivor was from ground zero, has prevented them from being recognized as suffering illnesses due to radiation, even if they have developed diseases. As a result, until about two years ago, only about 2,000 survivors had been recognized as atomic bomb radiation disease patients.
But the government for its part has not entirely been sitting on its hands. In the summer of 2007, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an easing in the criteria for recognizing sufferers of atomic bomb-linked disease. The government then began to recognize atomic bomb survivors with five specific diseases, including cancer, as sufferers of atomic bomb-related disease.
Since then, the door has opened wider, with about 3,000 people being newly recognized just in the last fiscal year. With eased criteria, 60 percent of plaintiffs have been recognized by the state as suffering illnesses caused by atomic bomb radiation.
Change must come quickly
However, Thursday's ruling is a message from the judiciary that this has not been enough.
Besides the five specific diseases under the government's recognition criteria, the bar is still set high for victims seeking recognition as sufferers. In a string of lawsuits, those with cirrhosis of the liver and underactive thyroid function--illnesses that are not eligible--have been recognized by the courts as sufferers of atomic bomb diseases.
In addition, nearly 8,000 people have filed applications for government recognition and are waiting for decisions. The government says more than 20,000 people will be recognized within 10 years at this pace. But considering that the average age of survivors is currently about 75, this pace is too slow.
The government should swiftly recognize people as sufferers of atomic bomb-related diseases based on precedents that have been set by courts. Criteria also needs to be further eased by adding to the list of recognized diseases.
A ruling coalition project team has submitted to the government its report seeking a wide review of the recognition framework. The government should work to settle this issue swiftly.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2009)