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`Death with dignity` debate arises again in Japan

Posted November. 17, 2014 08:05,   


With death of American woman Brittany Maynard, who announced a planned date of death and chose to die with dignity by taking a lethal dose of drugs on Nov. 1, death-with-dignity debate has been spread in Japan. The Mainichi Shimbun reported on Sunday that there is no act or legislation for a terminal patient to choose to die in Japan. In 1991, a professor of medicine at Tokai University Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture who helped a terminal cancer patient’s euthanasia by injecting drugs was convicted of the murder of the patient.

Since that case, many people have been raising their voices for official recognition of the right to die with dignity, in which a terminal patient can die naturally without receiving life prolongation treatment, and Japan`s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the medical society created guidelines in 2007. If there is no possibility of restoration despite any kind of treatment, a patient’s will to die must be respected and a medical team, not a doctor, must review to decide "death with dignity." However, euthanasia or assisted suicide, to put an end to a patient’s life by injecting drugs, was not acknowledged in such cases.

Bipartisan Parliamentarian’s Union established the "Act on Respect for Patient’s Will over Terminal Stage Treatment (tentative title)’ in 2012. The act defines a terminal stage as the state close to death without possibility of restoration despite adequate medical care and treatment. The bill also contains "when a patient expresses his or her willingness to refuse any life prolongation treatment in a written form, etc.," "if two or more doctors deliver the same decision based on medical expertise," the doctor who does not provide or suspends life-sustaining treatment shall be exempted from penalty. When the bill was proposed, heated controversy prevented it from being submitted to the parliament. But recent death with dignity of Maynard sparked the controversy again, the Japanese daily reported.

However, the Association of the Handicapped in Japan is against the act arguing, “Social atmosphere to force not to provide life prolongation treatment could be established.”