Dynamic axes of informed consent in Japan

Social Science & Medicine
Volume 174, Pages 1-228 (February 2017)

Original Research Article
Dynamic axes of informed consent in Japan
Pages 159-168
Laura Specker Sullivan
Scholarship in cross-cultural bioethics routinely frames Japanese informed consent in contrast to informed consent in North America. This contrastive analysis foregrounds cancer diagnosis disclosure and physician paternalism as unique aspects of Japanese informed consent that deviate from American practices. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 15 Japanese medical professionals obtained during fieldwork in Japan from 2013 to 15, this article complicates the informed consent discourse beyond East-West comparisons premised on Anglo-American ethical frameworks. It expands professional perspectives to include nurses, medical social workers, clinical psychologists, and ethicists and it addresses informed consent for a broad range of conditions in addition to cancer. The results suggest that division of affective labor is an under-theorized dimension of informed consent that is perceived as at odds with principled demands for universal informed consent. These practical tensions are conceptualized as cultural differences, with Japan identified in terms of omakase as practical and supportive and the United States identified in terms of jiko kettei as principled and self-determining. These results have implications for the methodology of cross-cultural bioethics as well as for theories and practices of informed consent in both Japan and the United States. I conclude that responsible cross-cultural work in bioethics must begin from the ground up, incorporating all relevant stakeholder perspectives, attitudes, and experiences.