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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008
Hepatitis bill clears Lower House; full passage in offing
The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would provide blanket relief to people who contracted hepatitis C after being administered tainted blood products.
The bill, submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc, was immediately sent to the House of Councilors, where the opposition camp holds a majority.
With the expected opposition camp nod, the bill will probably be enacted during the current extraordinary Diet session, which ends Jan 15.
About 1,000 people, including the 207 plaintiffs nationwide who have sued the government and drugmakers, will receive an apology and compensation from the government. Earlier in the day when the Lower House health and welfare committee approved the bill, some of the plaintiffs observing the session were in tears.
Under the bill, people who were infected with hepatitis C after being administered with virus-contaminated blood products, including fibrinogen, that were produced on certain dates between 1964 and 1987 will receive up to ¥40 million per person, depending on the severity of their condition.
The preamble of the bill states that the government must admit its responsibility for causing huge harm to the victims and failing to prevent the damage from spreading.
It also stipulates that the government must offer a sincere apology to them as well as to relatives of victims who have died as a result of the infection.
The bill demands that the government make every effort to prevent another drug-induced disaster.
People who contracted hepatitis C through the blood products and whose conditions progressed to cirrhosis or liver cancer will receive ¥40 million, as will relatives of people who have died.
Those with chronic hepatitis C will each receive ¥20 million, and hepatitis C positive patients will get ¥12 million.
A fund to pay the compensation, whose initial cost is estimated at ¥20.5 billion, will be established by the government and drugmakers once the bill is passed.
The relief bill also orders the government to reveal the names of the hospitals that administered the tainted blood products and encourage people who may have gotten hepatitis C through the blood products to undergo checkups.
Those who have credible documents must file lawsuits and submit a court decision that acknowledges they are victims who are entitled to compensation, it says.
The bill was compiled by the ruling bloc at Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's instruction in late December.
The ruling parties submitted the bill to the Lower House Monday after reaching an agreement over its contents with the victims who sued the government and drugmakers. It has been reported that some 10,000 people may have been infected by tainted blood products, but that the medical records of many have been lost.