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Doctors' opinion called 'administrative stand'.

KUMAMOTO, Japan, July 29 Kyodo

Officials of the former Environment Agency said in 1991 the opinion of eight doctors on recognition standards for Minamata disease is merely an ''administrative viewpoint,'' according to a document Kyodo News obtained Sunday.

That deviates from the conventional stand that the opinion, which some medical experts and researchers have recently criticized for being too severe, is based on medical authority.

The agency, now the Environment Ministry, formally insisted the opinion is the medical opinion of neuroscience experts and should be distinguished from administrative opinion.

A committee of medical experts was thought to have compiled the opinion on the mercury poisoning condition in 1985 but some experts have criticized the opinion as baseless because it fails to provide medical data to support its claims.

The government and the agency have used the opinion as the sole basis for the medical validity of the 1977 government-designated recognition standards for the disease in allocating damages for victims.

The standards designate several symptoms including ataxia and the narrowing of the victim's visual field, as well as sensory disturbances in the victim's arms and legs, in recognizing Minamata disease victims.

Recently, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology and court rulings on damages suits by Minamata disease patients, as well as some researchers criticized the standards for being too severe and failing to offer valid reasoning.

But on Oct. 19, 1991, one of the agency officials said at a special committee on Minamata disease problems under the Central Council for Environment Pollution Control, an advisory panel of the agency, that the opinion was merely ''an administrative viewpoint.''

The committee was discussing the contents of a draft report on the issue. It included a conclusion that patients with mere sensory disturbances cannot be recognized as Minamata disease victims, citing the 1985 opinion.

According to the minutes of the committee meeting, the agency official told the committee members, ''The expert committee's (opinion) is merely an administrative viewpoint and we have to think how to smoothly link (the experts' opinion and the conclusion) in order not to contradict the gist of the argument.''

The agency is thought to have asked experts to compile the opinion in 1985 after the Fukuoka High Court criticized the recognition standards in its ruling for damages suits by Minamata disease patients.

The medical validity of the standards has been the focus of the damages suits by the patients. There are several thousand Minamata disease patients who suffer lack of sensation in their arms and legs but show no other symptoms.

The former Environment Agency became the Environment Ministry in January last year as part of government administrative reforms.
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Publication:NTT Topics
Date:Aug 5, 2002
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