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Introduction to the Project on Bioethics for Informed Choices - page 28 / 115





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558Challenges for Bioethics from Asia

Bioethics and high school students’ views of life: What happened to pupils’ consciousnesses through bioethics lessons

- Shunji Miura .

Soka Nishi High School, Saitama JAPAN

Email: shunji-mua@biglobe.ne.jp

As the life sciences have developed through molecular biology into the genome society, various different matters have arisen in the practice of healthcare. This has altered together with our view of life, our outlooks on illness and day-to-day living. Additionally, these changes are coming to have a large influence on our everyday lives. For example, while organ transplants have given a ray of hope to patients with diseases hitherto considered untreatable, on the other hand, we have been forced to reconsider the question “ What constitutes the death of the individual?” from a new standpoint. Then again, while treatments for infertility have brought new hope of giving birth, we have had to confront directly the questions “What is the parent-child relationship?” and “What is family?” In this way, the series of developments we call advanced medicine at the same time cause fresh frictions (schisms), and we live dragging these along behind us. We can no longer cope with a view of life that is only a view of the “dignity of life” (SOL is sanctity of life), but have had to adopt a standpoint on the “quality of life”.  Furthermore this means we are faced with a dilemma as to how far we can pursue this “quality of life”. These classes were to consider these points together with senior high students. Firstly, looking at the composition of the complete course, a whole year was not spent on the subject “bioethics”, but rather the classes were carried out intensively between the latter half of the 1st semester and the latter half of the 2nd semester, melding into the next part of the course.

The first point of instruction was to get the students to discuss the theme “a transparent self” from the case of a 14-year old boy that made news recently in Japan, and out of this, deepen their consideration of self, of others and of society. This takes the form of confirming ideas about life after carrying out the above task. Recently young people in Japan have shown a marked tendency to withdraw from society, and against this background I carry out these lessons bearing in mind particularly that it was a senior high school student who uttered the remark “Why is it wrong to kill others?”

What can be seen from the written part of the students’ questionnaires is that while the words are distancing, they look at life as “relationships”. Also it seems that to some extent they do feel death, albeit in a sensuous way, as the reverse side of life. All in all, you can tell that Japanese senior high school students feel comfortable when they are sleeping, eating etc.! Concerning the meaning of life, just like the students who talk of subtle changes, although there are no particularly dramatic shifts we can probably say that viewpoints altered in some kind of way.  

What we can see from the next, tallied-up questionnaire, is that for each item the number of “don’t-knows” has increased. Isn’t this because the pupils have grasped that life is a more complex set of relationships? Maybe it is that they are beginning to think that life is something rising above various clashes of interest, something in the process of birth. Maybe, contrary to the intentions of the lesson, this shows the difficulty of understanding “quality of life”! It may be that the pupils, having through the classes moved from a vague knowledge of bioethics to feeling shaken-up, are sending out these “don’t knows”. So, their real feelings may be not so much that they don’t know, as that they no longer understand.

Finally, what then is the cause of this sense always felt when teaching bioethics (what was felt while doing these classes), fuzzy and impossible to put into words. Perhaps the cause is in the duality of meanings of “quality of life”, sometimes meaning to extend life, and others to cease treatment. How valid this bioethics, that reinterprets life phenomena according to the criteria of ethics, is when set up against the principle of life as absolute, will in part grow out of social consensus, but isn’t the point whether or not we can be satisfied with this state of affairs? Now that a schism between biology-based views of life and human personality-based views life

. pp. 558-559 in Macer, DRJ., ed., "Challenges for Bioethics from Asia" (Eubios Ethics Institute, 2004).

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