"The Birth of the Discourses on 'Death with Dignity'"
last update: 20151224
The Birth of the Discourses on "Death with Dignity"
This article is the study of contemporary history that examines the processes of the birth and development of "death with dignity" discourses in Japan. The processes traced in this study are also the course of discursive transformations from "euthanasia" to "death with dignity," that is, from "peaceful death given by removing the pain in the terminal and irrecoverable stage" to the new dimensions of meaning of death which is "one's own death in order to keep the human dignity." The main target of this study is the period from 1960's when legalizing euthanasia by doctors was proposed in Japan for the first time, to 1983 when Nihon Anrakushi Kyokai (Japan Euthanasia Society) was renamed to Nihon Songenshi Kyokai (Japan Society for Dying with Dignity).
The term "death with dignity" was used by the mass media unintentionally when the court decision on the Quinlan case whose issue was to legitimate to withdraw a respirator from the patient in the so-called vegetative state. The concept of "death with dignity" was introduced unwillingly by the jurists who encountered the problem of the legal interpretation of that decision. In the same period, Ohta Tenrei and Nihon Anrakushi Kyokai proposed a bill to legalize euthanasia. But this legalization movement destroyed itself and Kyokai was compelled to change the name because its true intension included exclusive attitude which sees elderly people, intractable patients and people with disabilities as han-ninngen (half-invalid person) and regards their living as a burden for society. However, this movement's fault and fall transformed the thought of "euthanasia" into the more sophisticated and extensive thought of "death with dignity" with a new narrative of "one's own, humanistic and dignified death." Then and there the "death with dignity" discourses in Japan were born.