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Silence between patients and doctors: the issue of self-determination and amniocentesis in Japan


Japan is among the few countries that have passed laws concerning eugenics. Consequently, the practice of selective abortion (abortion of an abnormal foetus) has been publicly debated for the past 35 years. Nevertheless, data show that knowledge in Japan about prenatal diagnosis is anything but common. In my fieldwork (April- June 2006) only 38% of interviewees (13/34) knew or had heard of 'amniocentesis' and 6% knew nothing about it at all. There are many explanations for why people are unaware of prenatal diagnosis. The most crucial factor is that medical doctors do not talk to their patients about it. My interviews with 11 medical doctors revealed that they do not talk about it because they want to respect the principle of patient selfdetermination. In this paper I aim first to introduce and analyse, in the context of Japanese eugenic history and the contemporary notion of the patient-doctor relationship, medical doctors' explanations for not talking to their patients about amniocentesis. Second, I address whether the principle of 'non-intervention' equates to 'self-determination'. Lastly, I suggest possible improvements to the practice of 'self-determination' in Japan.


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  32. The society was established in 1949, and currently has 15,900 members. Members are not necessarily medical doctors. As a society with professionals, they have influence on the content of guidelines, policies and sometimes laws in the field of gynaecology and obstetrics.

  33. Translated into English by the author.

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Correspondence to Masae Kato.

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Kato, M. Silence between patients and doctors: the issue of self-determination and amniocentesis in Japan. Life Sci Soc Policy 3, 28 (2007).

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