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October 28, 2006

Sense of discomfort, American bioethics


Yesterday, Christian Steineck, Associate Professor at Bonn University, who is currently staying in Japan for a couple of weeks, came to Osaka. He and I went to the Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper Osaka branch, and had a talk with a Yomiuri journalist. Our talk will be published in Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka. We talked about our conference held last month in Tuebingen.

I stressed that German bioethics and Japanese bioethics resemble with each other in that both share an unwillingness to affirm "eugenic" technologies, utilitarianism, and direct intervention with human body and life. One of the reasons of this resembrance is probably Japanese philosophy (and jurisprudence) has been greatly influenced by modern German philosophy (and jurisprudence), and another reason would be that Germany and Japan was the executers of eugenics and human experimentation during World War II, namely, Auschwitz and Unit 731 etc.

Christian said that while the United Utates and Germany share Christianity and the tradition of European philosophy, German philosophers feel a "sense of discomfort" when importing American bioethics to their country. Of course, similar things happened in Japan.

I think it is very important to research on this sense of discomfort, because American bioethicists usually do not feel one. They have never tried to import bioethical thoughts outside the United States, particularly those of Asian, Islam, and Latin American countries. The problem of this sense of discomfort has not been the subject of their bioethical research. Thier interest in world bioethics is mainly based on their anthropological curiosity, such as "this kind of interesting discussions are going on in Japan, China, India, etc.". (Of course American liberal bioethicists feel a sense of discomfort to American conservative one, and vice versa, in their country.)

What do you think about this?

Photo: Albany, NY, USA

   -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

October 22, 2006

Yasukuni Shrine and the justification of war


I went to see Yasukuni Shrine on August 14th, a day before the visit of the Japanese prime minister Jun'ichiro Koizumi. Yasukuni Shrine is notorious for its enshrinement of Class-A war criminals. I strongly oppose Koizumi's visit, but I have never been Yasukuni Shrine, so I decided to go there and see how the shrine looks like and what is going on inside.

It was a hot summer day. Yasukuni Shrine was located at the center of Tokyo, just beside the Imperial Palace. In the garden of the shrine there were a number of the members of Japan War-Bereaved Association. Most of them were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, probably the brothers, sisters or children of dead soldiers who died during World War II. Among them there were young people and couples, who had probably no relationship with the bereaved family.

I went to the main shrine and took a picture. They were selling the bottles of sake (alcohol), the name of which was "Yasukuni -- The God's Alcohol." They were even selling conservative books on the Emperor System and Japanese history. Then I went to the Yushukan MIlitary Musium, which is run by Yasukuni Shrine.

It seemed to me very strange that a Shinto shrine has a huge military musium in their site, but anyway I entered it and saw its exhibition about the history of warfare from Ancient Japan to World War II. There were a number of ancient weapons, modern military goods, personal belongings of soldiers, and the facial portraits of deceased soldiers. There were explanation panels on the walls of the exhibition rooms. The basic tone of the panels were that of "self-justification." It was stressed that there was a necessity to invade China and other Asian countries at that time, and it was also stressed that the main cause of the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States was the economic pressure made by the USA and other European nations. In an audio visual room, they were showing an old film that praises Japanese army's victorious battles in the mainland China. The room was filled with visitors of various ages. They were silently watching the film. There was no exhibition relating to Asian victims or Asian general public in the musium.

In the last room, personal belongings and portraits of killed soldiers were exhibited. Among them, there were a portrait and clothes of a seventeen-year-old girl who committed suicide when she knew the defeat of Japan. Her portrait moved me. Such a thing should never happen again. A great number of people were killed in Korea, China, Taiwan, the Phillippines, Nanjing, Chongqing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa, and other cities. These atrocities can never be justified for any reason. This is why I cannot support Yasukuni Shrine, which justifies and praises the Japanese invasion to Asian countries and the Japanese war against the USA. And I cannot support two atomic bombs dropped by the US army, even if they succeeded in reducing the number of deaths of American soldiers.

Photo: Albany, NY, USA

Related post: Parody of the Japanese national anthem, Kiss me Kimigayo

   -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

October 15, 2006

Human dignity in bioethics, German conference


I attended the conference, Japanese and Asian Bioethics, 26-29 September 2006, at Tuebingen University. The first day was dedicated to presentations by young scholars in Germany and Japan. Among them, the presentation, "Application of Preinplantation Genetic Diagnosis in Japan," by Kayoko Yamamoto, was most stimulating. She insisted that preimplantation genetic diagnosis has more ethical problems than prenatal diagnosis (selective abortion), because in the case of PGD the pregnant woman can abort a fetus without experienceing an intimate mother fetus relationship in her womb. Her discussion sounded somewhat paradoxical, but it made me think deeply about the morality of abortion and the meaning of life.

On the second and third days we discussed about the regulation of research on human embryo, and about the debate on brain death and organ transplantation in Japan. There were three insiders among the participants, namely, Susumu Shimazono, who was a member of the Committee on Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Ryuichi Ida, who was also a member of the committee and other related committees, and Yutaka Hishiyama, who was working as a governmental official in this field at that time. Hence, we had a deep discussion hearing their "personal experiences" in the actual political process of establishing guidelines and rules.

On the last day, we had a free discussion over current bioethical issues. One of the debated topics was the meaning of "human dignity" in the area of bioethics. In the German constitution, "human dignity" is stipulated as this: "Human dignity is inalienable. To respect and to protect it is the duty of all state authority." (wiki) Ole Doering pointed out in our discussion that even in the German constitution the term "human dignity" was not clearly defined. Ida said to us that in the above committee he decided to skip philosophical discussions about the concept of human dignity because he was afraid that once the discussion began it would never reach any consensus. On the contrary, Shimazono, who was also a member of the committee, tried to continue a philosophical debate on human dignity no matter how much time it might take. (See the paper, "The Ethics of Human Cloning and the Sprout of Human Life")

I have the impression that the discussion on "human dignity" should be continued, but we have to keep in mind that the concept of human dignity is different from that of "sanctity of human life," because it is logically possible to imagine cases in which intervention with "natural" human life should be needed to protect his/her human dignity. However in most cases, human dignity is fully protected when we withhold such intervention in the field of bioethics. This is a really difficult topic. I have the intuition that my concept "fundamental sense of security" must serve as a methodological ground for pursuing human dignity.

Our conference was held in the old castle, Schloss Hohentuebingen, which is located at the center of the old city of Tuebingen. In the morning, this castle was covered with heavy fog, and we could hear various birds singing behind it. Tuebingen was a very beautiful city. In a bookstore in the university I could find a lot of German philosophy books that I had read in Japanese translation.

Photo: Albany, NY, USA

   -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

October 04, 2006

Busy days

I am very busy this week. I have a lot of work to do. I am going to write about the Tuebingen bioethics conference, Japan's living organ transplantation scandal occurred last week, and Yasukuni Shrine. I want time to think and write...

October 01, 2006

Back to Japan

I have just come back from Germany. Tuebingen was a very beautiful city. We had a series of intensive discussion. I will write about it after taking a rest...