Difficulties Can Be Overcome with Our Solidarity 37th General Assembly of Min-Iren: Interview with Secretary General Nagase

Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions (Min-Iren) convened its 37th General Assembly on March 2-4, 2006 in Sendai City and adopted the action plan for the coming two years. Secretary General Nagase Fumio of Min-Iren says, “The meeting confirmed that we are the ones to create history, and difficulties can be overcome with our movement and solidarity”. His interview follows:


Slogans of the Min-Iren 37th General Assembly:

●At the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Japanese Constitution and the founding of the first democratic medical clinic, let us inherit the tradition: “All lives are equal”, and make a new history of Min-Iren that will defend peace, the Constitution, human rights and democracy.

●Now is the time for Min-Iren to get into action! Let us raise our antenna high to detect human rights violations, including asbestos problems, defend people’s rights to medical care and welfare, and make progress in our works and movements for health care, disease prevention and nursing care.

●Let us consistently work together with “partner organizations” in all our activities, improve control and management works and develop Min-Iren as the organization in which we can feel pride and confidence.

The points emphasized in the Min-Iren General Assembly are condensed in the above slogans of the General Assembly.

Learning Min-Iren’s History Through Movement

As the first slogan says, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Japanese Constitution, and also the 60th year since the first democratic medical clinic (hospital) was established.
Sixty years ago, we did not have the universal national health insurance system, and for many people, medical care was beyond their means. It was around that period when our forerunners, medical doctors and nurses, campaigned for a “medical care in the hands of the people” and started establishing democratic medical clinics in different parts of the country. These clinics and groups merged in Min-Iren in 1953.
Min-Iren has consistently upheld its ideal of “Equality of life” since its founding. In our general assembly meeting, we confirmed that in this difficult period, we, staff and partner organization members together, must once again learn the history of Min-Iren.
Thanks to the power of the Constitution, we have refused to cooperate with all wars. Japan was at war all through the 56-year period of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.
In the face of the move to revise the present Constitution, the first slogan pronounces that even after 60 years, the vitality of the Constitution is still strong, and that it should shine more brighter in the future.
When we had the previous General Assembly, the “Article 9 Society” was not yet born. But now we see 4,000 of the societies throughout Japan. In Min-Iren worksites, a growing number of “Article 9 Societies” have been established, led by young workers who took part in the campaign to stop the construction of the military base at Henoko Beach in Okinawa. They say, “It is really absurd to build a military base on such a beautiful beach and sea.” Young people tend to avoid talking about politics and are afraid of feeling out of place among friends, but some of them begin to talk about peace and protection of the Constitution in their own words. Compared with two years ago, both in our workplaces and local communities, our own strength and initiative are developing. These changes brighten the prospects of stopping the adverse revision of the Constitution.

“I will keep supporting Min-Iren”

The second slogan shows what are the tasks that we should work on. We want them to take more concrete shape according to the needs in each clinic, center and local community.
Among the medical activities by Min-Iren, there are many that will not yield any income per se. A report was given by Hokkaido Min-Iren about one patient. In order to realize the wish of a patient to go back home before his final moment, our doctor and nurses accompanied him to travel over a great distance to go home. This was made possible through the discussion and encouragement of the hospital staff, trying to meet the wishes of the patients as much as possible. That patient refused till the end to use a respirator. After his death, a note was found, which said, “I do not want to die, but I don’t want machine’s help to survive. Thank you all for everything. I will keep on supporting your work.”
In the discussion on defending the right to medical care, a number of cases were shared in which our workers accompany the patients whose national health insurance card was taken away to go to municipal office to urge the issuance of it, pressing the officials in charge, saying, “Are you abandoning the life of this person?”
After this year’s General Assembly, many participants in the written description of their impressions of the meeting said that they felt happy to have been working at Min-Iren hospitals/clinics. I believe that it was the result of the sharing of many workers’ experience to try to do one’s best to help the patients in front of their eyes. Some observers from our partner organizations also expressed their wishes to work together with Min-Iren to support the people in need and to defend and develop Min-Iren’s medical entities in the community.
We also confirmed to make our all-out effort to tackle asbestos problems. There are still many doctors who have never seen the patients of mesothelioma (a kind of lung cancer), a particular condition occurring only among those exposed to asbestos. Does that mean those doctors need not examine the patients? Definitely not.
Even in the court struggle over Minamata disease, the doctors were not the experts on the Minamata disease from the beginning. Based on the needs in the community, they worked hard to acquire necessary specialized knowledge about the disease, by having training at universities.
Asbestos problem is the issue that questions us in Min-Iren how to respond to the demands of the time.

Creating Waves of Movements from Local Communities

Due to the revision in April to lower the medical and nursing service fees, many Min-Iren hospitals/clinics will suffer the loss of income by as much as 20 to 30%. But the difficulty of such a magnitude cannot be dealt with by any cosmetic measures. In our General Assembly, we were determined that there is no other way to make a breakthrough than summoning our power of solidarity and united effort. We confirmed that we would continue to launch powerful campaigns from local communities, such as Doctors Wave, Nurses Wave, Users Wave and Patients Wave.
There are so many people suffering from various reasons in communities. In solitary life, they cannot consult with anyone; Some patients are killed by their own family members who have become so desperate and tired from nursing care; Others die lonely deaths not being known by their neighbors or relatives. These instances require us to work harder and more closely with our partner organizations, developing our “network of human rights” in our communities.
Min-Iren attaches greatest importance to helping the patients right before our eyes. At the same time, we are the medical and welfare organizations working hard to improve social security for everyone to enjoy good medical care with no worry. Our hospitals do not charge extra for the beds with special care. We are working also to defend and maintain Min-Iren’s medical service entities, which are the treasure of local communities.
Where can we find the driving force for these struggles? I believe it derives from the knowledge on what our organization values most. Here, too, I want to emphasize the importance of learning the history of Min-Iren.
In the course of the recent General Assembly, we were pleased to deepen the discussion bearing on the very significance of existence of Min-Iren, such as how to protect people’s right to medical care. The Assembly marked the starting point of our discussion to review in the present situation what Min-Iren aims at and whom we should work in solidarity with.