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"Do not Commend the Self-Sacrificial Death:
The Paradox in "Death and Life Education""

OTANI Izumi April 9, 2010
Kyoto Shimbun Morning Edition:6
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"Do not Commend the Self-Sacrificial Death: The Paradox in gDeath and Life Education""

Last fall, I organized lectures titled "life and death education" in my workplace. There were some complications about the lectures because the purpose of the lectures was not to unconditionally promote "life and death education" but to critically analyze the social contexts in which this type of education has been popular, and the way "life and death" should be explained to students in classrooms.

Every time a suicide or a murder committed by children is broadcasted, the needs for education on "life" and "death" are raised. Moreover, overlapping with issues of the Organ Transplantation Law or end-of-life care, not only the medical-service community, but also even the business community are expressing their expectations for the education. For this reason, it should be investigated at this moment what type of images of life and death are described or what type of views of life and death are expected to be developed in education.

For example, there was a report that during the Christmas season, a teacher told students in morality classes a story of a patient that had regained one's own health by organ transplantation, thanks to an organ provided as a gift of love. However, when and how is the existence of children and people with long term brain dead reflected in this story? Advocates of life and death education often quote "narayamabushiko (a Japanese novel on a rural community where those who reached 70 years old are abandoned by their children in the winter mountains as a community rule in order to save the future of the poor village)" or the ceremony of "seppuku (suicide by disembowelment)" as traditional Japanese views of life and death. However, such quotations seem to be paradoxical in terms of the viewpoint of death education that intends to have students accept death and prevent them from committing suicide.

Not a few students intuitively point out the discrepancy in the difference between "good death," the premise of the education, which should be accepted as destiny, and "bad death or suicide" that should be prevented. This leads to the paradox in which legalization of "death with dignity" based on patientsf wills has been promoted while the number of annual suicides has been exceeding 30,000.

If it is considered that the suicide committed by reasons of personal circumstances, creating distress among those closely related, is regarded as "bad death"h and should be rejected, while the self-sacrificial death chosen by reasons of the desire to remove burdens on families or societies represents "good death with dignity," the co-existence of suicide prevention and acceptance of death is a very simple story without any paradox. In fact, "life and death education" covers the idea leading to social defense by magical words of "love" or "dignity," irrespective of the fact that advocators recognize the trick or not.

When communicating with university students, I feel that the hurdles to death for them are becoming lower year by year. Their own difficulties may overlap with living their "life enforced by the excessively developed medical technology" that is mentioned over the end-of-life care. We have to review the truth of the slogan -- letfs recognize the value of life by considering death-- from such viewpoints.

Therefore, I would like to show you real-life examples of hope. In Kyoto, there are ALS patients who live by themselves alone at home. ALS is the most serious intractable disease (nanbyo) in which the patients develop paralysis in the limbs and undergo bronchotomy, communicating through letter boards. Although they are showered with comments such as "how can they live with such serious disabilities?," they lead full lives. Their lives are neither supported by the love of sacrificial families nor dependent on their own strength alone. We are all vulnerable creatures that are always wavering.

At the same time, everyone hopes to help not only themselves, but also others. Therefore, it should not be commended in classrooms that this simple wish can be achieved by "death." The society that excludes those who are helpless or those who have become helpless equals the one that disposes of those being helpful. Right now, we are witnessing the situation.


UPFMay 24, 2010@REV:June 7, 2010

Translated by TAMURA Noriko
Proofread by KATAOKA Minoru
Archives@ Bioethics Organ Transplantation/Brain Death Death with Dignity Nanbyo: ALS / MND etc. 2010 OTANI Izumi
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