Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld a decision by the Fukuoka High Court which posthumously recognizes Chie Mizoguchi as a victim of Minamata disease. The original ruling of the high court in 2012 was in favor of the plaintiffs, Mizoguchi’s relatives, who filed a lawsuit against the Kumamoto Prefectural Government for rejecting their claims that she suffered from the ailment. Mizoguchi passed away in 1977 at the age of 77.
In a separate but similar case, the same panel composed of the five-justice Third Petty Bench, led by Justice Itsuro Terada, overturned an Osaka High Court decision that rejected another woman’s claim to be recognized as suffering from the disease as well. The Supreme Court ordered the high court to continue the deliberations on the case. The crux of both cases is whether or not the 1977 criteria set by the government for the recognition of the victims of Minamata disease was reasonable and logical. The criteria have tough standards, including proof that the victim suffered from sensation disorder plus a combination of other symptoms. However in deciding on both cases, the Supreme Court did not touch on this, other than to say that there is no scientific proof that all who suffer from the ailment have developed these symptoms required by the criteria.
Minamata disease causes paralysis of the human central nervous system, as well as birth defects in the victims’ offspring. It was caused by the mercury-laced waste water released into the Minamata Bay by Shin-Nippon Chisso Hiryo K.K., later on renamed as Chisso Corp. It is considered one of the worst pollution-related diseases and was recognized by the Japanese government as such in 1968. In 2010, the government set redress measure for the uncertified victims, with a lump sum of around $21,400 plus monthly medical allowances. 65,000 patients have applied since then. There have only been 3,000 officially recognized patients and three-fourths of them have already died. Some supporters have demanded that the government conduct a thorough investigation on the spread of the disease but they have been refused.
[ via Kyodo News ]