Japanese atrocities largely ignored by bioethicists in Japan, China & the West

Dr. Jing-Bao Nie has written several follow-up comments on Takashi Tsuchiya’s essay in which he compares and contrasts how the world and the Japanese people, in particular, have responded (or more accurately, denied) the atrocities committed by both Nazi and Japanese doctors. Below are excerpts from his article, “Challenges of Japanese doctors’ human experimentation for East-Asian and Chinese bioethics,” Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 2001.

In the West, Nazi doctors’ atrocities have been taken very seriously…
Almost immediately after the World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunal headed by American judges brought to trial of 23 Nazi physicians, professors and medical administrators for “crimes committed in the guise of scientific research.” Seven of them were sentenced to death by hanging and nine were sentenced to long prison terms. More importantly, the historic Nuremberg Medical Code was formulated and promulgated as a part of the judgement of the Nuremberg Court.

The influence of the Code over contemporary Western bioethics is so profound that one could not imagine what today’s bioethics would look like without the Code. At least partly due to the Code, the ethics of experimentation with humans was the first and has been the major agenda in Western bioethics ethical review of research involving humans has become standard practice and informed consent has become probably the most important moral principle in medical research and medical practice in the West.”

“The influence of the Code can be easily seen in such international documents as all versions of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki on Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to email communication with German bioethicist and Sinologist Ole Doering, because of the past, many German physicians and even more social scientists, especially the younger generations after the 1970s, have done a lot of work to show the fact of continuing threads combining Nazi medicine with current medical practice and the necessity of being always alert as to political, social and structural feature related to medicine with might favour inhuman medical conducts. On the other hand, the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study can been seen as a result of the lesson of Nazi doctors’ human experimentation and the Nuremberg Medical Code being treated as irrelevant and thus ignored by physicians and doctors in the United States.”

“There was no counterpart of the Nuremberg Trial for Japanese doctors’ atrocities and therefore no similar document like the Nuremberg Code in Asian bioethics. It has been revealed that in order to use the data from Japanese experiments to develop its own biological warfare program in the name of national security, the government of the USA played a most inglorious role in protecting Japanese doctors from trial. The Americans’ treatment of Japanese doctors can never be justified by either Western or East-Asian or any other moral standards. Nevertheless, what I would like to stress here is that, no matter how outrageous the conduct of the US officials was in dealing with this matter, this should not become an excuse for us, human beings in the year 2001, especially Japanese and Chinese medical ethicists, not to take Japanese doctors’ atrocities seriously.”

“the Japanese doctors’ human experimentation is treated as having little relevance and is rarely discussed in today’s Chinese and Japanese medical ethics. The historical, psychological, socio-cultural, and moral-ethical dimensions of Japanese doctors’ experimentation have been far from well explored.”

Fortunately, from the references of Tsuchiya’s article, we see that some historical documents and studies have been published: Chinese Central Archive. Vivisection: Japanese Army’s War Crime; Natsuko Yoshikai; Unforgettable Memory: A Document of Army Surgeon Yuasa’s Vivisection; Kei’ichi Tsuneishi. The Conspiracy of Medical Researchers. … Han Xiao, the President of the Unit 731’ Crimes Museum in Ping Fang where the factory of death was located, has been studying the Unit since 1969 and published a series of research Han Xiao, the President of the Unit 731’ Crimes Museum in Ping Fang where the factory of death was located, has been studying the Unit since 1969 and published a series of research including Unforgettable Memory, translated into English by Lu Cheng, Harbin (1985); Harris Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 6 (1997) 240-242.

Nevertheless, to my knowledge, few ethical explorations have been done yet by East-Asian medical ethicists on the subject as well as on its practical and theoretical implications for today’s medicine and bioethics in Asia. Among the few literature of approaching to the subject from a medical ethics perspective is Chinese scholar Yuan-Fang Chen’ “Japanese Death Factories and the American Cover-up”—basically a commentary on Harris’ book— first presented at the first East Asian Bioethics Congress held in Beijing in 1995 and then published in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 6 (1997) 240-242.

I am grateful to Takashi Tsuchiya in Japan, Ole Doering in Germany, and Lynley Anderson in New Zealand, for their kind suggestions.