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Japanese infected by tainted blood products win bill that pins responbility on government

Japanese infected by tainted blood products win bill that pins responbility on government

Hundreds of Japanese who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood products hammered out a deal with legislators Friday that includes a government apology and monetary compensation.
The agreement is a landmark victory in the five-year legal battle of some 200 hepatitis C patients, who had filed lawsuits in several courts, accusing the government of approving the blood products while knowing of their possible dangers.
The blood-clotting agents were administered to stop bleeding during surgery and childbirth from the 1970s to the early 1990s _ infecting possibly thousands more people with hepatitis C, a chronic, potentially lethal blood-borne virus that can cause liver ailments, including cancer and liver failure.
The government is suspected of irresponsibly continuing to approve the products in Japan, long after they were discontinued in the U.S. in 1977 because of the dangers. Outbreaks in Japan of hepatitis C linked to the administering of such drugs were reported as early as the mid-1980s, and the risks are believed to have been widely known in medical circles.
Under the new agreement between the plaintiffs' attorneys and a panel of lawmakers, a bill will be passed to offer compensation to about 1,000 people with hepatitis C, earmarking from 12 million yen (US$106,000; euro73,000) to 40 million yen (US$354,000; euro244,000) per person, depending on the severity of their ailments, a Health Ministry official said.
He requested anonymity, as is customary here when an official is not the spokesman. The bill will be worded to admit government responsibility and offer an apology, he said.
The plaintiffs have repeatedly said they are demanding government accountability to prevent a recurrence of such scandals.
They earlier rejected a proposed out-of-court settlement because it did not include an acknowledgment of government responsibility _ the biggest sticking point in the ongoing negotiations.
Their attorney, Toshihiro Suzuki, welcomed the agreement.
"In every way, it answers our demands, and we are completely satisfied," he told reporters on nationally televised news.
The tearful appeals of his clients before cameras had dominated TV and other media coverage in Japan in recent months _ swaying public opinion to their side while sending the popularity polls of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda plunging.
Earlier this month, Fukuda did an about-face and apologized to the plaintiffs. He met with a few of the patients at his office, although he was lambasted for not meeting with more of them.
Although Japan prides itself on strict regulations over food, pharmaceuticals and other products, the nation has also had its share of scandals that have highlighted ineptitude and irresponsibility at high places.
Japan was mired in a similarly stunning scandal over blood products in the 1990s, which were tainted with the HIV virus but were approved by the government for routine use for hemophiliacs _ even after reports of their risks surfaced. About 1,800 people were infected, and hundreds died.
As many as 10,000 Japanese are believed to have been infected by hepatitis C through the tainted products, but that number could be as many as 2 million, Japanese media reports said.
"The prevention of such infectious diseases lies with the government," Suzuki said in a statement on his Web page. "Dangerous blood products were used in large dosages in births and for treatment of bleeding merely because of a shoddy approval process by the government."
Satoko Kuwata, a plaintiff, expressed joy about how her five-year battle for an apology and compensation was finally drawing to a close.
"I'm happy our demands were respected," she said in an interview with NHK TV.
The law is almost certain to get passed in the next few weeks because it is backed by the ruling party, and the opposition has been vocal in supporting such legislation.


Updated : 2021-03-05 22:49 GMT+08:00