Bioethics Education Network in Japanese High Schools

- Hiroaki Koizumi
Kojimachi Girls High School, Kojimachi, Tokyo, Japan
(from TRT4, Nov 1998)
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 79-80.

I teach ethics and Japanese history at Kojimachi Girls High School in Tokyo. Kojimachi is in the center of Tokyo, about 1km from where the Forth World Congress of Bioethics was held in Ichigaya. We had a session at TRT3, together with the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Japan Association of Bioethics which Darryl hosted on Bioethics Education, in which other members of the network besides myself and Izumi Ohtani spoke. But it was in Japanese so many of you did not join us!

The International Bioethics Education Survey conducted in 1993 found over 80% of the biology and social studies teachers from Japanese high schools who responded thought bioethics education is needed (Macer et al. 1996).

In response to call from teachers to begin or deepen bioethics education from contact since that time led to a High School Bioethics Education Network being formed in 1996, as reported by Yukiko Asada and Darryl Macer (1997) in TRT3, also in English at the Asian Bioethics Conference in Kobe 1997. To date over 60 teachers from all over Japan have joined the network. The network has held 11 meetings since the end of 1996, and 15-20 teachers participate each time. At each meeting different teachers talk, from either biology or social studies backgrounds. The two of us "volunteered" to speak on behalf of all the members.

There are three or four functions in the network. These are:

1. The teachers who teach bioethics and are interested in bioethics can make a connection.

2. Teachers can exchange information with each other, and exchange views.

3. Teachers research the roles of bioethics in education in general.

4. And conversely they also research the role of education in developing one of the objectives of bioethics, that of involving all citizens in social policy making, and making mature individuals. I would like to talk about one of the themes discussed in our meeting, on how humanity and science relate to illness.

We can have various answers to the question of what is a human being? Human beings are a type of animal that makes tools, as do chimpanzees. Human beings like to modify the environment they live in. Human beings are conscious of themselves being alive, they can exercise much autonomy in moulding their own life and making plans for the future. Human beings also must suffer and be worried, and can never escape from disease. Maybe we can use the term "Homo patients", rather than Homo sapiens.

Buddha mentioned four sufferings, birth, aging, illness and death. Recently many people think that these sufferings do not have contact with daily life but exist only in hospital. People try to hide from disease. However when we think about human dignity and the respect for life, we need to discuss the ultra-modern medical technology. These are major issues within bioethics.

I show some example from a textbook on ethics that focuses on illness. What is illness? At first, we must understand that everyone has some illness and lives with it. But modern healthism presupposes the idea that illness and injury to health are bad. We think "No illness is the best", so we regard health as not a means to an end in itself. As a result, the concept that health is normal and illness is abnormal leads to discrimination and exclusion. For example, when a person has only one deviation after many medical examinations, they must undergo the examination again and we think they are ill and abnormal. These things may make me sick, although I'm in good health. Who is in complete health? A moment of thought should be enough for you to see that no human being has a perfect and faultless body so everyone has a illness.

On the other hand, illness is personal. My illness is my problem. My cold is not others' but mine. "The type illness", which is defined in the medical world, is subtly different from everyone's illness. In this context, if we change a patient for a student, the medical situation and the education one have something in common. It means that a teacher judges only by the academic deviation scores of the examinations. When a student gets bad scores, he is regarded as dropout. His teacher cannot see the humanity of each student. It should be engraved in our mind.

A Japanese writer, Yoshida Kenko said "There are seven things that don't suit for our friends, "in his famous essay, "Tsurezuregusa". He mentioned that "third, the person is robust and without illness". That it to say the young healthy man will surely find it hard to feel sympathy for a sick person. Now I feel the need that teachers make their students turn their eyes to "illness".

I just wanted to share some thoughts with you today. We can discuss these deep issues in high school, so all of us will become more gentle, and better understand each other.


Asada, Y. & Macer, D.R.J. (1998) "High school bioethics education network in Japan", pp. 152-166 in Bioethics in Asia, N. Fujiki & D.R.J. Macer, eds. (Eubios Ethics Institute, 1998).
Macer, D.R.J., Asada, Y., Tsuzuki, M., Akiyama, S., & Macer, N.Y. Bioethics in high schools in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1996).

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