Hibakusha express dissatisfaction with new standard for certifying A-bomb diseases

by Masakazu Domen, Staff Writer

A subcommittee of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, charged with reviewing provisions for the medical care of A-bomb survivors, adopted a new standard on March 17 for A-bomb disease certification which substantially broadens the basis for official recognition. The new standard also includes a precept, added to the ministry's draft of February 25, which strengthens the government's commitment to providing relief to A-bomb survivors. The revised policy will go into effect in April.

The newly added precept states, “Based on the spirit of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, the standard for A-bomb disease certification shall strengthen the stance of saving hibakusha and more adequately address the reality of A-bomb exposure.” In response to the demands of A-bomb survivors, the government's ruling coalition had requested that the health ministry modify their draft, particularly the key concept used in the previous standard which based recognition on a controversial method of estimating a survivor's radiation dose, the so-called “probability of cause.”

The new standard for certification includes the following criteria: If hibakusha were exposed to the atomic bombing within roughly 3.5 kilometers of the hypocenter and later developed one of the five designated diseases (cancer, leukemia, etc.), they will be duly recognized as sufferers of A-bomb diseases; if they do not meet these provisions, they will nevertheless be assessed individually and in a comprehensive manner to judge their claim. To proceed with the certification process under the new criteria, four governmental teams, by disease type, will be formed. The health ministry estimates that 1,800 hibakusha will be certified each year, a tenfold increase over current figures.

However, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo), as well as the plaintiffs and attorneys of the class-action lawsuit concerning the recognition of A-bomb diseases, responded with dissatisfaction, declaring, “This revision of the criteria does not go far enough and we cannot accept it.” Instead, they will continue demanding that a broader standard be adopted which will expand the scope of designated diseases.

Referring to the new precept included in the revised standard, Terumi Tanaka, Secretary General of Hidankyo, commented, “The revision is not yet satisfactory as it does not provide any assurance that those cases which are less clear-cut will be certified.” Mr. Tanaka went on to criticize the fact that another medical condition, hepatic function disorder, was not included in the criteria for immediate certification. Tetsuro Miyahara, representing the attorneys supporting the class-action lawsuit, expressed his disappointment with the proposal, saying, “In many ways, the revised standard actually contradicts previous court rulings. How the lawsuit will eventually be resolved remains unclear.”