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Unit 731 and medical ethics in Japan


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" organized 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

Related post: Unit 731 and atrocities in China during World War II

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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hy masahiro, the problem does not exist only in japan, here in Germany same experiments where done during WW2 , my brother has a thick book about crimes done only in psychiatries in 1940ies in Germany, here the interests for such facts is decreasing, that´s a very alarming signal. thanks for your post, it´s again very interesting, have a nice time, arash

Hello, arash. Thank you for your comment. Probably every country has its own taboo topics, particularly those deeply connected to the experiences during WW2. We have to keep our eyes open to thses issues.

how right, just thinking of USA and the atomic bombs, what was that for a crime! you as japanese will know that. another question: have you not found an english publisher for your books? I think that a lot of western readers are interested in your topics. it´s a pity that japanese philosophers are treated not as full in europe, or so. I would love to read a book on philosophy with your style. hope you are well, your arash

News from China, March 15. "Chinese collector finds evidence of Japanese WWII germ warfare" --- BEIJING, March 15 (Xinhuanet) -- A Chinese collector has happened to discover a 60-year-old book that details Japan's use of germ warfare, lending evidence for a strategy which killed and maimed tens of thousands of innocent people during World War II.
The 81-page book, owned by Beijing resident Wu Jianxun, details research results of germ warfare experiments on humans and was presented at Japan's 18th Bacteriology Conference in April 1944. ... >> Read more http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-03/15/content_4307067.htm

hy masahiro, that´s very courageious of you to publish these facts and the free world does need this. Till now I didn´t have thought on this problem. now I am doing. thanks

Hi Masahiro and arash, I believe that Japanese younger generation should be taught more about our forefathers' wrong doings in China and other Asian countries during the WW II including the 731 unit case as well as all those sexual crimes by the soldiers. When I found out those things as an adult, my view of China-Japanese relations changed dramatically. It is necessary not only to normalize our relationship with other Asian nations like China but also to change Japanese still men-centered sexual customs from inside. I feel some commonality for those events because both of them concern power-relations and degrading of the others.

hy Kumi, you talked about men centered sexual customs in japan? can you tell more about that? here in Germany things are not so men centered, but I would not say they are good, people often changes their sexual partners. what has come from the sexual revolution to japan? have a nice day arash

Takashi Tsuchiya told me that he revised his paper and uploaded to his website.


Please visit and see his newest paper.

thanks masahiro, I downloaded the page and will read it, sounds very interesting, thanks again, arash

Hello Arash,
You question is too broad to answer, but let me take an example: the sex industory is very big in Japan and the supermajority of the consumer is male. Even in a convenience store around the corner, pornographic magazines are sold for male customers. Many women don't like such a situation, but nobody complain it publicly.

How is the situation in Germany?.

hy Kumi, if you want my e-mail address it´s arashsoto@yahoo.de , maybe you can talk there longer about that subject. yeah here the problem is illegal prostitution, woman who are forced to do that. I have read about the broad use of japanese from sex services, here in Germany everything is more hidden. so one can not know whether it´s more then in Japan. I would like to talk further , if you would contact me under the address, thanks at all for your answer. arash

Hi arash, thanks for the offer, but I'm not in the mood to talk about those subjects on a personal basis right now. Please excuse me.

hy kumi, thanks for the answer, no problem, I didn´t wanted to be curious, it´s a tough theme I understand that. stay well arash

Boy, I guess the bosses at Green Cross adopted their company standards from the original CEOs who did the experiments at Unit 731. So they didnt learn a lesson huh. I wonder if they continued on with their crimes against humanity because they were never punished after the first time they were caught. They passed on their practice to their children, the current CEOs of the company. Unbridled evil not admonished begets a more sophisticated evil.

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