Death with dignity is impossible in contemporary Japan: Considering patient peace of mind in end-of-life care

Currently in Japan, it is extremely difficult to realize the basic wish of protecting personal dignity at the end of life. A patient’s right to refuse life-sustaining treatment has not been substantially warranted, and advance directives have not been legally enforceable. Unfortunately, it is not until the patient is moribund that all concerned parties start to deliberate on whether or not death with dignity should be pursued. Medical intervention is often perceived as a worthwhile goal to not only preserve life, but also provide psychological benefit to the family, regardless of its effect on the patient. To feel they are doing something, family members tend to act against the imperative “Do not inflict on others what you would not wish done to you,” and permit extraordinary measures they would not want themselves. Another complication in Japanese culture is the necessity of unanimous decisions for end-of-life care. If there is conflict between a patient and his/her family on accepting medical intervention, the view of the latter is more likely to prevail due to different perceptions of human dignity. As a result, incapacitated patients in Japanese clinical settings often suffer through extraneous medical procedures, particularly during end-of-life care. Patient dignity is in danger from a national refusal to accept major bioethical principles such as having respect for patient autonomy, serving the best interests of the patient, doing no harm, and ensuring fairness at the end of life. We argue that more education about human dignity and legislation for death with dignity are necessary. Peace of mind for patients during end-of-life care will never be achieved in this society unless drastic changes take place in medical ethics and law
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