Disabled couples in Hokkaido agreed to birth control. operator of group homes claims

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asunaro Social Welfare Service Corporation in Esashi, Hokkaido, on Monday

ESASHI, Hokkaido — Birth control was only proposed “as an option” for residents of group homes with intellectual disabilities and residents agreed to it themselves, according to the director of the social welfare corporation that operates the homes.

Asunaro Social Welfare Service Corporation is under fire for requiring the residents of its facilities to practice birth control if they want to get married or live with a partner. Director Hidetoshi Higuchi defended his organization’s actions at a press conference Monday, but welfare experts and people in the industry said the policy did not demonstrate care for the facilities’ residents.

The corporation operates group homes for people with intellectual disabilities and other welfare facilities in the town of Esashi and elsewhere in Hokkaido. About 410 people use its facilities.

According to the corporation, its homes have since the late 1990s asked male residents to undergo a vasectomy and female residents to use a contraceptive ring if they want to marry or live with a partner at these facilities.

The corporation told such residents in the presence of family members or guardians that if they had babies, the facilities could not take care of the children, and obtained their consent regarding birth control. Eight couples have undergone the treatment over the past about 20 years.

“It is quite natural for the disabled to want to date members of the opposite sex when they became independent economically and can afford to do so,” Higuchi told reporters on Monday.

“We proposed the birth control as an option, but they agreed to it themselves. We could never do such a thing without their consent,” he said. Higuchi also claimed that no couples had wanted to raise children at a facility.

Reproductive rights — the legal right to decide whether to give birth and raise a baby — are considered fundamental human rights. Measures to sterilize or prevent pregnancy without the consent of the individuals involved could violate those rights.

The government has been ordered in the past to pay compensation in trials related to the forced sterilization of the disabled under the defunct Eugenic Protection Law and other issues.

The Hokkaido prefectural and Esashi town governments have launched a fact-finding probe that includes questioning Higuchi and other related people. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has said it will also consider how to address the problem.

“If the facilities prevented residents from using their services [if they did not consent to birth control], they would have no choice but to agree,” said Kazuhiko Ichikawa, a professor in the welfare of the disabled at the Junior Collage Division of the University of Aizu.

Ichikawa said measures must be considered to support residents if they have a newborn baby, rather than cutting off the alternative of having a child. “This response does not demonstrate concern for the residents,” he said.

Many facilities for the disabled have condemned the corporation’s response, with one representative saying “this is an excessive practice that is not in keeping with the times.”

Another said, “Sex education is necessary, but actions to force sterilization or prevent pregnancy are intolerable.” However, some have pointed to a lack of official support in this area.

Toru Kanaya, the director of the Joshu Suidosha social welfare corporation in Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture, said government subsidies are provided when residents go out accompanied by facility staff, but not for taking their children to and from nursery schools or dealing with emergency illnesses affecting their children.

“The government cannot imagine disabled parents giving birth to children and raising them,” Kanaya said. “There are probably other facilities that also force the residents to choose not to have babies.”