I have received the Second Announcement of the 8th World Congress of Bioethics, which will be held at Beijing, 6-9 August this year. I am not a member of International Association of Bioethics, but the names of my friends and scholars I met at conferences before are listed in the list of organizers and commentators. I have to decide by April 15 whether to participate or not. I have never been to China. This might be a good opportunity to experience culture and society out there.
The most interesting program, for me, is the one entitled "Ethical lessons from Unit 731's Human Experiments" (morning, 8 August) and Sepecial Symposium "Japanese Wartime Atrocities" organnized by Jin-Bao Nie, University of Otago (afternoon, 7 August). This topic was once presented by Takashi Tsuchiya in the 5th World Congress of Bioethics, 2000. The Unit 731's human experimentation was carried out in China during the WW2. More than 3,000 Chinese people were tortured and killed by Japanese doctors. This human experimentation included vivisections for medical training, intentional infection, and learning tolerance of the human body. I don't know how many Japanese participants will be participating in these sessions because the issue of 731 is still a kind of taboo in Japanese bioethics. I would like to join and see what kinds of topics will be discussed there.
Takashi Tsuchiya concluded in his important paper on Unit 731's human experimentation as follows:
I believe it is the Japanese and East-Asian values, such as respect for authority and harmony, in the Japanese medical profession that not only made possible the massacre by human experimentation in China during the period of 1933-1945 but also prevented a public investigation after the war. That is why I entirely disagree with Japanese proponents of "the East-Asian Bioethics" who have never mentioned the past conduct of the Japanese medical profession. For Japanese bioethicists, it is dangerous, shameful, and outrageous to discuss a "moral community" among East-Asian countries without serious reflection on the past acts of Japan. (Takashi Tsuchiya, "Why Japanese doctors performed human experiments in China 1933-1945," Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 179-180.)
Tsuchiya implied that Japanese authoritarianism shared by the Japanese doctors worsened the problem. In Japan and other East Asian countries, authoritarianism and the pursuit of harmony among people have been considered to be the highest virtue, but this mentality often leads people not to criticize their bosses even when they are performing an apparent act of injustice.
It is shocking that doctors who performed those human experimentations came back to Japan after the war and gained good positions, and some of them became important figures in Japanese medical circles. Wikipedia says as follows:
Many former members of Unit 731 became part of the Japanese medical establishment. Dr Kitano Masaji led Japan's largest pharmaceutical company, the Green Cross. Others headed U.S.-backed medical schools or worked for the Japanese health ministry. (Wiki)
The reason why this was possible was, according to Wikipedia,
At the end of the war however, he [MacArthur] secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731 in exchange for providing America with their research on biological weapons. The United States believed that the research data was valuable because the allies had never publicly conducted this type of human experimentation, due to potential political fallout. Also, the U.S. did not want any other nation, particularly the Soviet Union, to acquire data on biological weapons.
As a result, the topic of "human experimentation" became taboo in the Japanese medical profession, and in Japanese bioethics as well until recently. It is worth noticing that Green Cross Pharmaceutical (Mitsubishi Pharma Corporation) led by a 731 doctor caused the notorious HIV scandal (the blood products made by Green Cross was contaminated with HIV and killed more than 400 patients) and the hepatitis C scandal (the one similar to the above).
This should become one of the most important topics of Japanese medical ethics.
Photo: My office, Osaka Prefecture University
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