Top Court Says Hibakusha Living Overseas Entitled To Medical Costs

Top court says hibakusha living overseas entitled to medical costsThe Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling Sept. 8 by ordering the government to pay medical costs of atomic bomb survivors living overseas, a decision that will affect thousands of people.
Upholding an Osaka High Court ruling in 2014, the top court's third petty bench said the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Support Law must be applied "even when atomic bomb survivors received medical treatment abroad.”

It is the first such ruling by the Supreme Court on this issue, based on provisions of the law in question.

In response to the ruling, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare pledged to conduct a policy overhaul to pay the medical costs of more than 4,000 hibakusha living outside Japan. It also undertook to pay the medical costs of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit as well as for those who lost in their trials at the Nagasaki and Hiroshima district courts in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and have since appealed to high courts.

The Supreme Court ruling on Sept. 8 is in response to an appeal filed by South Korean survivors of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. They include Lee Hong Hyon, 69, who was exposed to radiation while his mother was carrying him in her womb, and two others who are now deceased. Lee and families of the other plaintiffs all live in South Korea.

In their suit to the Osaka District Court in 2011, they sought payment of medical costs that were denied them by the Osaka prefectural government on grounds they lived abroad.

In 2013, the Osaka District Court nullified the rejection and ordered the payment of the medical costs to the plaintiffs. In 2014, the Osaka High Court supported the district court’s ruling. The Osaka prefectural government then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the Sept. 8 ruling, however, the top court turned down the appeal, saying those eligible to receive medical costs should not be singled out on the basis of whether or not they live in Japan.

“It is difficult (for atomic bomb survivors living overseas) to travel to Japan to receive medical treatments. It is against the purposes of the law that they cannot receive payment of medical costs,” the ruling stated.

According to the ministry, the number of atomic bomb survivors living abroad stood at 4,284 as of the end of March. About 3,000 are living in South Korea, and 950 or so in the United States. Most of those hibakusha returned to South Korea or settled in the United States after the war.