Cirrhosis recognized as A-bomb disease by Tokyo High Court

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

On March 12, the Tokyo High Court upheld a ruling made by a lower court in favor of the plaintiffs, four A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) living in Chiba Prefecture. These hibakusha have been seeking to reverse the decision of the government regarding the rejection of their applications for A-bomb disease certification, considering it unjust. The court recognized the diseases of two of the plaintiffs to be A-bomb diseases, though these illnesses--one of them, cirrhosis--are not defined as A-bomb diseases in the government’s criteria for A-bomb disease certification. The first high court ruling on cirrhosis in a series of class action lawsuits, which have attracted much attention, has declared this illness to be an A-bomb disease. At the same time, the court dismissed the claim for state compensation made by the plaintiffs and rejected the appeals of both sides.

Class action lawsuits over A-bomb diseases were filed at 17 district courts and have led to three higher court rulings to date: the Tokyo, Sendai, and Osaka High Courts. The government has so far lost a series of 14 cases in the judicial system. Though the government denies the correlation between radiation exposure and impaired liver function, the district courts have recognized this correlation in their rulings. Now that the Tokyo High Court has judged impaired liver function to be an A-bomb disease, momentum is likely to grow for a settlement of these lawsuits and for a review of the new criteria for A-bomb disease certification. Lawsuit plaintiffs and A-bomb survivors have been calling for both.

The ruling by the Tokyo High Court pointed out that the correlation between radiation exposure and the development or worsening of diseases other than cancer, which are not included in the new criteria for immediate certification, should be assessed on practical grounds if survivors can meet certain conditions, such as the circumstances of their exposure to the atomic bombing. The court recognized that the cirrhosis suffered by Sueko Takada, 69, and a myocardial infarction of Sumie Tadume, 71, are A-bomb-related diseases.

Concerning the class action lawsuits, Takeo Kawamura, chief cabinet secretary, declared in November 2008 that the Tokyo High Court decision regarding plaintiffs in Tokyo, to be made on May 28, 2009, will serve as a deadline for the settlement. The ruling of the Hiroshima District Court in connection with the second class action lawsuit, expected on March 18, and the rulings of the Osaka and Tokyo High Courts in May will also focus on impaired liver function. Tetsuro Miyahara, representing the attorneys supporting the class action lawsuits, stressed, “We seek a complete settlement from the government and demand that it make the political decision to revise the present certification criteria, without waiting for the high court rulings.”

At a regular news conference on March 12, following the ruling issued by the Tokyo High Court, Mr. Kawamura emphasized the importance of the decisions of the Tokyo and Osaka High Courts. Referring to the discussion held in a subcommittee of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), whether to include impaired liver function in the criteria for immediate certification as an A-bomb disease, he commented, “The subcommittee should come to a conclusion after the series of court rulings are made, including the one from the Tokyo High Court.”

Osamu Okabe, the director of the General Affairs Division of the Health Service Bureau of MHLW, said, “We found this decision by the Tokyo High Court, on the whole, very harsh. After the details are confirmed, we will consider a response, conferring with the relevant ministries and agencies.”

(Originally published on March 13, 2009)

Commentary: Review of national certification criteria needed
by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

The recognition of cirrhosis as an A-bomb disease by the Tokyo High Court on March 12 will likely become a factor in advancing toward the settlement of the class action lawsuits and helping to expand relief measures for A-bomb survivors. Though the government’s decision whether or not to appeal the ruling is the focus for now, further review of the criteria is inevitable under these circumstances. MHLW did not appeal the rulings issued by the Sendai and Osaka High Courts in May 2008, which recognized all the plaintiffs involved as suffering from A-bomb diseases, saying that the government did not have a strong reason to pursue the fight to the Supreme Court. After the Osaka High Court deemed thyroid dysfunction an A-bomb disease, MHLW began to screen application materials and officially certify the illness. In this context, the Tokyo High Court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs is of great significance.

An MHLW subcommittee, composed of experts, is now considering whether to include impaired liver function, such as cirrhosis, in the criteria for immediate certification, following recommendations made by a ruling party committee concerning relief measures for A-bomb survivors. As the matter is now completely in the hands of the subcommittee, A-bomb survivors are becoming increasingly frustrated, wondering when a conclusion will be reached.

The judicial branch of the government--the high court--has declared that impaired liver function should be certified as an A-bomb disease. By obstinately sticking to its established policy, the Japanese government will find it impossible to win the understanding of the public in regard to its administrative practices involving A-bomb survivors.

A-bomb disease certification
Based on the Atomic Bomb Survivor Relief Law, A-bomb survivors who have developed diseases such as cancer, apply to MHLW for A-bomb disease certification. If it is recognized 1) that their diseases were induced by radiation from the atomic bombing and 2) that the diseases require treatment, a special medical allowance of 137,000 yen per month is provided. Since 2003, when the applications of survivors for A-bomb disease certification were rejected, they began to file class action lawsuits in various places, calling for these decisions to be reversed. The government lost a series of cases in the class action lawsuits, and introduced the new certification criteria in April 2008. Five diseases, such as cancer and leukemia, are included in the new criteria for immediate certification, if the survivor was exposed to radiation within roughly 3.5 kilometers of the hypocenter.

(Originally published on March 13, 2009)

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