"On Ohta Tenrei: Eutopia and Distopia of His Thoughts Concerning Euthanasia"
last update: 20151223
On Ohta Tenrei: Eutopia and Distopia of His Thoughts Concerning Euthanasia
Ohta Tenrei (1900-1985) has been well known as the organizer of the Nihon Anrakushi Kyokai (Japan Euthanasia Society), the present Nihon Songenshi Kyokai (Japan Society for Dying with Dignity) that has mainly promoted the right to die movement in Japan. He was also famous as the leader of birth control movement and the key person to legislate the Yusei Hogo Ho (the Eugenic Protection Act). In this paper, I focus on his concepts through his euthanasia movement, with special reference to his two short stories, that he wrote in his closing years, and argue that his thoughts concerning euthanasia have involved exclusivism.
Ohta Tenrei's foresight is clear. His points regarding homosexuality, aged sexuality, funeral reform, hospice, death education etc., were the pioneering works, which have been recently called 'my own life, sexuality and death'. However, Tenrei has connected the existence of aged and disabled people to euthanasia and hospice, making issues of overpopulation, 'aging of population', and increasing medical expenses. At the same time, he campaigned to enlighten the public, and argued for the necessity of death education for young, and patient in the context to exclusive han-ningen (half-invalid person) as 'social burdens'. It is also noteworthy that his definition of han-ningen is very similar to that of 'person' in current bioethics.
Tenrei's points are to normalize the ending of human life artificially as a 'good death', for those who have a loss of rational, intellectual ability, and to enlighten the public, with visible and invisible religiousness. Regarding these points, it cannot be denied that current thanatology has been influenced by Ohta Tenrei. Therefore, the contemporary hospice movement, palliative care, death education, and 'Life and Death Study' (thanatology and bioethics) hide the exclusivism of han-ningen in more refined words, in more dexterous forms that abandon the simple and bare discrimination of Tenrei's description. Life and Death Study has the responsibility to educe it.