A Call for Further Studies on the Ethical Lessons of Japanese Doctors' Experimentation in Wartime China for Asian and International Bioethics Today

- - Jing-Bao Nie*, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand;

- Takashi Tsuchiya, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan;

- Hans-Martin Sass, Georgetown University, Washington, USA;

- Keiichi Tsuneishi, Kanagawa University, Japan.

*Contact: Dr. Jing-Bao Nie, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, P.O. Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand

E-mail: jing-bao.nie@stonebow.otago.ac.nz

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 106-7.


In the period 1932-45 Japanese doctors conducted a series of inhuman human experiments over Chinese, Russians, Mongolians, Koreans and others. They include, but are not limited to, vivisections over Chinese prisoners for training newly employed army surgeons; intentional infection of many diseases such as plague, cholera and typhoid; trials of unusual and non-established "treatments;" and studies on the tolerance of the human body for extraordinary circumstances. In "factories of death," thousands of people were experimented, tortured, and murdered. At the most infamous Unit 731 alone, three thousand human beings were killed by physicians and medical scientists. A number of similarities exist between the experiments performed by Nazis and those undertakings by Japanese doctors. Both are intentionally killing, torturing and harming human beings in the name of science and medicine as well as national interests.

Just as Nazi doctors' medical killing, Japanese doctors' most unethical human experimentation challenges each and every one of us, all fellow human beings. It challenges Japanese, Chinese and Americans especially. Japanese doctors' atrocities are against the common sense of humanity, against Western moral values, and more importantly, against Asian, including Japanese and Chinese, moral principles and ethical ideals. This subject is of not only historical significance, but also direct relevance to today's medicine in Asia, Japan and China in particular, to international research ethics, and to cross-cultural bioethics.

However, due to many complex historical, political and cultural factors in China, Japan and the international community (including Japanese denials, two Chinese governments relative silence, and the American cover-up), these atrocities are much less known and much less explored intellectually than those conducted by Nazis. For Japanese doctors' crimes, there were no counterparts of the Nuremberg Trial and the Nuremberg Code. Not only less well-known, compared to the Nazi doctors' war crimes, Japanese doctors' atrocities have also much less explored academically and intellectually. Many archival, historical and journalist works on the subject have appeared in Japanese, Chinese and English languages since 1980s. Actually, one of us (Tsuneishi) has been working on this subject from a historical perspective for years, with a number of Japanese publications and a forthcoming English book (Tsuneishi). However, in spite of the obvious significance of the subject for bioethics and humanities, the little attention has been in the circles of international as well as Asian bioethics and humanities. Challenges and implications of Japanese doctors' atrocities for East-Asian medicine and medical ethics, international research ethics, and cross-cultural bioethics have never been taken seriously in Japanese, Chinese and international bioethics and humanities up to recently. The subject has been treated as having little relevance to today's medicine and medical ethics. Imagine if Nazi doctors' human experimentation had never seriously discussed in contemporary bioethics and humanities.

Since the early 2000s, bioethicists worldwide have made a series of efforts to take up this too-long-overdue task or challenge. Eubios Journal of International and Asian Bioethics has initiated the international discussion on this subject in 2000 by publishing the article by one of us (Tsuchiya 2000), entitled "Why Japanese doctors performed human experimentation in China 1933-45", and the brief commentary by Mashiro Morika (2000). This journal has then published a series of further discussions and commentaries by Chinese/New Zealand, German, Israelite and Chinese scholars (Nie 2000; Doering 2001; Leavitt 2001; Chen 2001). Last year, one of us (Nie 2002) published another piece on the subject in the supplementary issue of the major international medical journal The Lancet. In 2001, a panel on this subject, co-ordinated by Nie and Tsuchiya, was presented at the fourth annual meeting of American Society for Bioethics and Humanities held in Nashville, USA, on 26 October. Entitled "Japanese Doctors' Human Experimentation in China 1933-45: Lessons for International Research Ethics and Cross-cultural Bioethics", it consisted of four presentations: "Secret of Unit 731: A historical review" by Tsuneishi; "Americans' different attitudes toward Nazi and Japanese war crime human experimentation" by Sass; "In the shadow of the past atrocities: Research ethics with human subjects in contemporary Japan" by Tsuchiya, and "Informed Consent and research ethics in Asia: Against Paternalism and authoritarianism" by Nie. The major objectives of the panel included to give a historical review on Japanese doctors' atrocities, to analyse the importance of facing the past squarely for contemporary bioethics and research ethics in particular, and to explore Americans' different attitudes toward Nazi and Japanese war crimes. Two papers in this EJIAB issue, those by Tsuchiya and Sass, are were presented at the panel. In this issue, a commentary by a New Zealander Michael Thomas, is also included.

Together with the editor of this journal Darryl Macer, we earnestly hope that more bioethicists, especially Japanese and Chinese scholars, to join this discussion and to explore the atrocities' ethical implications for today's medicine and medical sciences.

References
Chen, Rongxia. 2001. "Why bring up the past tragedy again?" EJIAB 11(3): 107.
Doering, Ole. 2001. "Comments on Inhumanity in the Name of Medicine: Old Cases and New Voices for Responsible Medical Ethics from Japan and China" EJIAB 101(2): 44-47.
Leavitt, Yeruham Frank. 2001. "Is Asian Bioethics at Fault? Commentary on Tsuchiya, Morioka, and Nie". EJIAB 101(1): 7-8.
Morioka, Masahiro. 2000. "Commentary on Tsuchiya." EJIAB 10 (6): 180-181.
Nie, Jing-Bao. 2001. "Challenges of Japanese doctors' human experimentation for East-Asian and Chinese bioethics." EJIAB 101(1): 3-7.
Nie, Jing-Bao. 2002. "Japanese doctors' experimentation in wartime China." The Lancet Supplement Vol 360: s5-s6.
Tsuchiya, Takashi. 2000. "Why Japanese doctors performed human experimentation in China 1933-45". EJIAB 10 (6): 179-180.
Tsuneishi, Keiichi. Forthcoming. Secrets of the Unit 731. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.


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