Retired Japanese airline employee Tarou Tanzawa said he hadn’t thought much about his own death until his 84-year-old mother was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma and decided against costly and invasive life-prolonging treatment.
He watched his mother die peacefully at a nursing home where she received only palliative care after checking out of the hospital where she was diagnosed.
Soon after, Tanzawa made his own “living will”, stipulating he did not want life-prolonging treatment if he became terminally ill or was in a vegetative state.
“I felt it was too soon (for my mother to die) but I also thought ‘Ah, there is this way of dying,” Tanzawa, now 68, told Reuters. “My generation of baby-boomers … are reaching old age, and we must confront death as a practical issue.”
Although Japan has one of the world’s fastest aging populations, the country has no laws regarding “living wills”, let alone assisted suicide, which is legal in a few U.S. states such as California and some nations including Canada and Belgium.
Japanese like the Tanzawas with “living wills” are a small minority. But as aging baby-boomers ponder their own demise and the country struggles with the worst public debt among advanced countries due partly to rising expenditure on medical care, the taboo on avoiding life-extending care is eroding.
The topic of “natural death” is increasingly being tackled in TV shows, newspaper and magazine articles and books; seminars on preparing for death are popular; and health experts say the use of feeding tubes for feeble elderly patients is declining.
“I think we are at a turning point in terms of attitudes,” said Teruhiko Mashiko, an opposition lawmaker and head of a parliamentarians group set up a decade ago to discuss a law giving legal protection to doctors who withhold life-prolonging care with the patient’s consent.
“The view that it is not dignified as a human to simply be kept alive by medical treatment is becoming more common,” Mashiko said in an interview.
The lawmakers’ group drafted a new version of a bill last year but it has yet to be introduced in parliament, largely because of opposition from disability rights groups who fear it could be a first step toward legalizing euthanasia.
Traditional Japanese views that families are obliged to care for elderly relatives have long been an obstacle to rejecting or withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. Many families fear being accused of callous abandonment, whatever the patient’s wishes.Tags: Japan, right to die