New Initiatives in East Asian Bioethics

- Hyakudai Sakamoto,

Professor, Department of Philosophy, Nihon University, 3-25-40 Sakurajosui, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156, JAPAN


Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 5 (1995), 2; 30.

I want to report on the new movement behind the proposed establishment of an Association of East Asian Bioethics.

In 1988, the Japan Association for Bioethics was founded and I was founding Chairman. The first stages of its activity were generally guided by the principles of Euro-American bioethics. In the course of later activity, we encountered many peculiar events which we can attribute to a keen influence of ethical mood and traditional way of thinking. The typical example is shown in the debate on the notion of brain death. I think the Japanese ethical mood does not accept the redefinition of death to include brain death, and heart transplantation from brain dead donors has not been done for twenty five years. The Japanese government set up a Prime Minister's ad hoc Committee specially on this issue. But it failed to reach to an effective agreement [EEIN 2 (1992),12; See Lancet 338 (1991) 1063-4;Nature 359 (1992), 770; Bioethics 7 (1993), 234-8 ]. Other aspects that may be peculiar to the Japanese continued to be disclosed and discussed afterward. Through these discussions, some of us began to doubt the applicability of Euro-American bioethics to Japanese climate.

Circumstances in China have parallels to the Japanese Euro-American idea of "human rights" as seen in the case of Tian An Mien. Please refer to Professor Qiu Renzong's later report for details. The First China-Japan Medical Conference held in Beijing, China in 1992 was a great success. As a part of the conference, we were given a chance to have a session of "Medical Ethics" for three days. I was the Japanese chairman, and the Chinese chairman was Professor Qui Renzong. In this session, Japanese participants talked mainly about bioethics from the Euro-American viewpoint, and Chinese participants talked about "Medical Ethics" of Chinese tradition. Professor Qiu Renzong pointed out that ancient Confucianism is now undergoing a revival, and there is a possibility to build up Chinese bioethics following Confucian ethical principles. Some disputes were raised there, but finally, we had a common feeling that, though we should learn from Euro-American bioethics much more, "our bioethics" should be based on our own culture, and , therefore, it should be somewhat different from the Euro-American ones.

As a result of later correspondence between Prof. Qiu and myself, we agreed to continue the debate on subjects related to bioethics, and we started investigating the possibility of cultivating a new Asian Bioethics, essentially different from the Euro-American bioethics, and we decided to found the new Association for Asian, or East Asian Bioethics [For comments see EEIN 4 (1994), 2].

Now, we are trying to hold the first International Conference on East-Asian Bioethics in Beijing, 3-5 November, 1995. It will also be the inaugural general meeting of the new Association for East-Asian Bioethics. We cordially invite readers to join us, and will announce more details in later issues of EJAIB, and continue debate in the pages of the journal.

The initial aims of the planned Association for East Asian Bioethics can be summed up as follows:

a. Bioethics should be based on the ethos, the way of thinking, and the world view of the people of respective regions with the same cultural background. And therefore, it is not necessarily universal.

b. The East Asian area is a typical region. It is divided into several countries now, but their underlying ethoses are similar with the common cultural background, i.e. the culture of the Chinese character.

c. There may be very significant differences or contrasts found between the East Asian ethos and American or European mentality in relation to ethics. Therefore we think we have to explore East Asian bioethics, and develop our own bioethics.

d. However, any East Asian Bioethics must be globally internationalized, fronting the new and globally common science and technology, as well as social development toward the post modern age. East Asian Bioethics should pursue harmony with other possible bioethics, especially, with the currently dominant American and European bioethics.

We look forward to comments and interchange through the journal and in the forthcoming conference.


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