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Thursday, February 5, 2009
Plea for Human Rights From Beginning
February 19, 1999
For the Recognition of the Value of Human Life from Its Beginning
The Honorable Kohei Miyashita Minister of General Welfare
It is certainly true that modern science continues to make extraordinary progress. The field of life science is no exception. As a result of the progress in modern medical care, even sicknesses formerly said to be incurable are now subject to cure. We, the members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, are profoundly grateful to those who have given themselves day and night to research for the sake of progress in this area. Again, we should like to take this occasion to affirm anew that the Catholic Church has the highest regard for the progress and development of science and medicine. We also recommend, provided it is carried out with respect for human life, that support be given and use made of such medical care.
However, we understand that among the scientists of the world, including Japan, research is being carried out to enable people to control and manipulate the beginnings of human life. We have reason for serious concern about the use and destruction of fertilized ova and fetuses of human beings in the name of science, medicine, or "eugenics".
Out of sincere concern that scientific and medical research be carried on with an attitude of respect for the mystery of human life, we hereby present the view of the Catholic Church and make seven specific requests.
The View of the Catholic Church
1) A child is not the property of the parents
We believe that even a child in the womb, from the beginning of his or her existence, has the right to be respected as a human being. In Japanese we do say "to have a child", but this in no sense means that the child is the "property" of the parents. The child is rather the parents' "charge", a real "gift" they have received. Whether the child is still unborn or already born, the child has received his or her life from God and it must be respected as a life which is the child's.
Again, the expression "freedom not to give birth" cannot be taken to mean that the parents are free to take the life of the child in the womb. To admit such freedom would not only be to accept the freedom of "the strong" against the weak who have no choice but to submit, but would also be to trample on the gift of life. Accordingly, artificial abortion aimed at taking a child's life can never be admitted, no matter what means are used.
2) The dignity of the human person must always be respected
In so called "secular" ethics, there is a kind of thinking that makes distinctions in the value of a people's lives. For example, the life of a person who has reason and the power of reflection and can plan his or her life is worth more than that of a person who cannot. According to this way of reasoning, the life of a child in the womb or newly born, or of someone who due to an unforeseen accident, for example, is in an unconscious state for a long period, has less value than that of a person who is active and in good health. Though not stated in so many words, there are laws and medical practices based on this way of thinking.
But a human life, no matter whose life it is, is equally important, and is never something we human beings can classify as superior or inferior. Whether in the womb or an infant, an adult or an old person, someone with an incurable disease or about to die, a person must be given the same respect. For the same reason, we are opposed to any act of killing, artificial abortion, all forms of euthanasia aimed at avoiding pain, the death penalty, etc.
We are most grateful for diagnosis and treatment before birth, provided it respects life in the womb, improves his or her health, and aims at protecting the child in the womb as a person. We earnestly ask that research of this kind be promoted. However, in diagnosis before birth, care must be taken to avoid cases involving disabilities or serious diseases for which there is still no treatment or morally defined precautionary measures. We are completely against this kind of diagnostic procedure. The reason is it is implicitly connected with the elimination of disabled children, makes little of their lives, and tramples on their human rights.
3) Human life should not be treated for the sake of reputation or according to economic principles
Without economic backup, no techniques can be developed. However, when a new technique is developed or used for economic reasons or personal gain, differences are introduced in human lives, which should all be equal. There is danger of strengthening the position of those with power in society and of further weakening the position of those without power, depriving them of the opportunity to live human lives. The avoidance of such a situation is not only the responsibility of those connected with medical care, but of the government as well.
Again, looking at the history of the transplantation of human organs, while it may have been for the sake of the struggle to gain a reputation as "the first to succeed", you are certainly aware of concrete instances of transplants that left some questions. It cannot be permitted that the reputation of the researcher or scientific interests should be given precedence.
It must be avoided by all means that, behind the expression "to save the life of the patient", it should be permitted to handle human life for the selfish motive of profit and reputation.
Requests of the Government
The question of human life is not to be judged from a personal point of view. It is a question for both culture and society. Consequently, while once again expressing our concern that human life be respected, we make the following seven requests of the government.
(1) The life of a child is his or her own. Neither the parents nor a doctor has the right to take the life of a child. Above all, we request that you provide for a system and laws to ensure that, in all medical care from the beginning of life, the life of the child should be respected.
(2) We request that the government have a clear policy that the less one is in a position to take care of oneself, as in the case of a child in the womb or an infant, the more deeply society should be concerned for them. Further, we request that an atmosphere be created where education on the value of human life can be given.
(3) We request that the government prevent medical care from taking a eugenic direction, and foster a welfare system wherein the handicapped and their families can live in absolute security.
(4) We request that the conditions and atmosphere for research be provided whereby the life of children in the womb who have some sickness or disability will be respected, their health improved, and treatment to protect them as individuals will be further encouraged. At the same time, we ask that guidance be given that diagnosis before birth should not made to look into the possibility of disability or serious illness until morally admissible precautionary measures or treatment has been defined.
(5) We request that the use in experiments on fertilized ova and genetic manipulation aimed at reproductive cells and embryo cells when, though only experimental, the word treatment is used, should be restricted.
(6) We request that you take care that the development of medical care and techniques connected with the beginning of life should not be influenced by economic concerns or desire for recognition, but rather treat the life of each person as of equal value.
(7) We request that easily understood information be made available concerning this new field of medical care, that discussion be deepened, and that you actually promote a society which has respect for life. We request, above all, that you hold serious discussions on the development of medical care in techniques related to the beginning of life, and give guidance not to carry it out until a clear explanation of its reasonableness can be provided.
In the Civil Law of Japan there is a text which recognizes the right of the infant in the womb to compensation for damages and to inheritance (cf. Civil Law, art. 721 and art. 886) and referring to the fetus in the womb as "the child in the womb" the text recognizes him or her as a human being (cf. Civil Law, art. 783). Also, Japan has recognized that a child, whether before or after birth, "because physically and spiritually immature" "must receive special protection and care, including suitable legal care", as is clear from the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" which it ratified in 1994 (cf. Forward to "Convention on the Rights of the Child".) However, as a matter of fact, Japanese society cannot yet be said to be a wholesome society where human life is respected from its beginning.
It is said that the quality of a society or culture is determined by the level of respect shown to the people in that society whose position is weakest. In order that all people living in Japan can be proud of the society and culture of Japan, we earnestly appeal that you take seriously and respond to the seven requests we presented above.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan
Peter Sei'ichi Cardinal Shirayanagi Francis X. Kaname Shimamoto Leo Jun Ikenaga, S. J. Paul Shin'ichi Itonaga Peter Takaaki Hirayama Joseph Satoshi Fukahori Joseph Hisajiro Matsunaga Paul Kazuhiro Mori Francis Assisi Kei'ichi Sato, O. F. M. Joseph Atsumi Misue Peter Toshio Jinushi Peter Takeo Okada Augustine Jun'ichi Nomura Berardus Toshio Oshikawa O.F.M.Conv. Paul Yoshinao Otsuka
Archbishop of Tokyo Archbishop of Nagasaki Archbishop of Osaka Bishop of Kagoshima Bishop of Oita Bishop of Takamatsu Bishop of Fukuoka Auxiliary Bishop of Tokyo Bishop of Niigata Bishop of Hiroshima Bishop of Sapporo Bishop of Urawa Bishop of Nagoya Bishop of Naha Bishop of Kyoto