DSQ > Summer 2008, Volume 28, No.3

Masahiro Morioka, a professor of contemporary ethics at the Osaka Prefecture University in Japan, discusses life and death in Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics: A New Perspective on Brain Death, Feminism, and Disability. In this book, the author attempts to broaden the perspectives on various ethical issues in a way that challenges the views of a traditional bioethics. Particularly, Morioka draws on the 'reality' experienced by people involved with a 'brain dead' person in developing his discussion on life and death. For example, in chapter 1, in which he discusses brain death, Morioka pays attention to the meanings people find in and the emotions aroused by the existence of a brain-dead person, who is seen as 'dead' on one level yet perceived and treated as otherwise by those who have intimate relationships with the person. Morioka argues that such reality is critical in determining whether a brain-dead person should be considered dead or alive — a point that he suggests tends to be ignored in academic discussions of bioethics.

In chapter 2, Morioka continues to critique Peter Singer's personhood theory as being 'logical,' yet failing to consider the 'raw' sense of our living realities and ignoring the ethical responsibilities that we inevitably feel toward each other when we realize that we are not alone but live in a network of complex human relationships. Resisting Singer's viewpoint, Morioka tries to construct an ethics that deeply bases itself on a human existence that is relational, reciprocal, and interdependent in nature, incorporating insights drawn from such thinkers as Martin Buber, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Emmanuel Lévinas.

Morioka also examines experiences in the Japanese women's liberation movement and Japanese disability rights movement. In chapter 3, Morioka focuses on the Japanese women's liberation movement in the 1970s that tackled the question of whether women have the right to have an abortion. Unlike European and American bioethics, which responded with the concept of self-determination and drawing of a line between a 'just' and 'unjust' reason to answer the question, women in Japan tried to look deep inside their own lives, including the fact that they had to kill their conceived 'babies.' In contrast, bioethicists tend to focus on the issue of whether those conceived 'babies' are in fact persons or not.

In the following chapter, Morioka highlights Mitsu Tanaka, who is one of the leaders in the Japanese women's liberation movement. She believes that an abortion is murder and that women who have gone through an abortion are, therefore, murderers. Starting from this admission of 'evil' in women's own doing, Mitsu Tanaka then shed light on and condemned the societal structure that forced women to become killers. Morioka calls this line of thinking "tracing back from evil." Following Mitsu Tanaka, Morioka proposes ethics that start from this act of admitting 'evil' in our own doing. He suggests that abortion, which he believes women have the right to decide, is violence toward life and that those who have their hands in the commitment of abortion — which certainly and particularly includes the men who got the women pregnant — have responsibilities to the fact that a life that otherwise should have had a life of its own has been terminated. Morioka contrasts this way of thinking to the ethical debates that divide "pro-life" and "pro-choice," which he considers fruitless.

In chapter 6, "People with Disabilities and the 'Inner Eugenics,'" Morioka highlights the Green Grass (Aoi Shiba), a group of people with cerebral palsy that led Japan's disability rights movement in the 1970s. Morioka reviews how the disabled members of the Green Grass critically challenged the fundamental assumptions of the Japanese society that had deeply believed in the eugenics and devalued disabled lives as undesirable. Morioka understands the underlying emphasis of the Green Grass's philosophy to be an 'affirmation of disabled self' and a sharp rejection of the 'able-bodied illusion,' which was a dominant ideology that put indisputable worth on an able body. Morioka further finds the group to be radical in their own admission of and resistance against inner ableist values and eugenic thoughts that they themselves had internalized. Morioka deeply respects and sees wisdom in the fact that the disabled members of the Green Grass did not remove themselves from the target of their own critique and squarely faced the 'able-bodied illusion' they held within themselves.

Morioka suggests that traditional ethics, which try to decide a line between 'good' and 'evil' and criticize the evil located outside of ourselves, make us avoid engaging with the critiquing work self-reflexively. In contrast, life studies, which Morioka proposes as a mode of interdisciplinary knowledge, asks us to cast our critical eyes on ourselves and affirm the 'inner evil' that we cannot simply suppress or ignore as a basis of its critiquing. Learning from Mitsu Tanaka, who insisted that a woman must face the fact that she killed her baby (even though it was not only her who committed the 'evil'), and from the disabled members of the Green Grass, who believed they had to critique themselves for the same internalized, discriminatory ableist ideology of which they bitterly criticized people without disabilities, Morioka realizes that none of us is free from 'being guilty' of participation in committing evil. As long as 'I' am a part of the construction of this society, 'I' too bare responsibilities; and criticizing others while excusing myself from owning the burden of a critique ends in a mere 'just' argument that does not allow the possibility of alternatives to emerge. Morioka says that life studies is an epistemological challenge that pushes us toward an action without an excuse. In the last chapter, in which Morioka summarizes what life studies is, he also calls it an epistemological challenge to "live without regret." This book marks the emergence of a new form of ethics. I follow Morioka's philosophy and intend to pursue its possibilities.

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