Commentary on Shirai

- Masahiro Morioka
International Research Center for Japanese Studies
3-2 Oeyama-cho, Goryo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-11, JAPAN

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 52.

In September, 1996, the Japanese Eugenic Protection Law of 1948 was finally revised into a new law, the Mother Body Protection Law [see Shinagawa, EJAIB 6 (1996), 158-60]. Words and phrases referring to eugenics were completely deleted from a new law, but some critics point out that eugenic thought is still hidden under the spirit of this new law.

For example, this law protects the benefits of the mother's body. Feminists say that the phrase "mother's body" implies that the body to be protected is "mother's," not "woman's," that is to say, a woman who does not plan to give birth should not be the main beneficiary of the law. Some feminists point out a kind of a male chauvinism that women should be a birth machine that gives birth to an adequate number of "healthy children" who are going to support Japan's prosperity in the future.

Even today, sterility is sometimes considered, among the ordinary people, to be a result of wife's bodily defect and/or her lack of effort in procreation. Under the pressure of moral obligation in procreation, many sterile women go to the hospital and try high-tech reproductive medicine. Many doctors believe that women should be biologically perfect and psychologically happy by getting pregnant and having children; hence, doctors unconsciously encourage their women "patients" to have a baby using reproductive technology.

Shirai says '"If prenatal diagnosis becomes a routine screening procedure without sufficient genetic counseling induced by doctor's affirmative attitudes toward prenatal diagnosis, the autonomy of a woman and her right of self-determination might be diminished." In order to fully understand Shirai's insistence, we have to know the reality of the psychological pressure women have in this country, and also many doctors' unconscious prejudice that women become perfect when having children.

In addition, disabled groups object to so called "eugenic thought" among our inner minds that a disabled person is not necessary in our society. They say this eugenic thought supports women's abortion, especially selective abortion when a fetus has disabilities. This so-called eugenic thought has created the idea that people with disability must be unhappy, hence they should be cared in a special way segregated from the ordinary life world, that is, inside a closed institution.

When people know that they or their partner have a disabled fetus, they automatically think of their future hardships with a disabled child, and/or the child's "unhappy" life in a closed institution. This may be one of the main reasons for them to choose prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion; under this disposition they claim is a kind of "eugenic thought" that some disabled groups have been repeatedly opposed to.

We will have to think of this "eugenic thought" inside ourselves from the viewpoint of ethics. I don't think bioethics have succeeded in discussing this topic at its core. Shirai's paper will be a helpful material for this discussion.


Shirai, Yasuko "Health Professionals' attitudes toward preimplantation diagnosis in Japan", EJAIB 7 (1997), 49-52.
Masahiro Morioka "Life and Eugenic Thought" in Press in Japanese. I think a series of discussion on this topic since the early 1970s in Japan was very deep and profound, hence it will be beneficial to the international audience who have interest in this ethical dilemma. I am going to write about this in this Journal in English.

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