Bioethical considerations on the japanese law and government reports on human cloning, the embryo and the genome
The Japanese government, as has been the case in other countries, has recently examined (with a view to passing suitable legislation) the ethical aspects of the new fields of biotechnological research where the human embryo and the human genome are the principal objects of inquiry. It has done this in order to establish the goals, value and limits of such research. A bioethics committee was appointed for the purpose and this set up three subcommittees. The first sub-committee was created in January 1998 to study questions and issues relating to “reproductive cloning”; the second came into being in December 1998 to examine questions and issues relating to the use of “human embryos” for research; and the third was set up on December 1999 to report on the developments involved in the Human Genome Project.
The reports of these three sub-committees were examined and discussed by the bioethical committee and published separately. The result of the first report was the law of June 2001 which prohibited “reproductive cloning” and provided for very severe penalties for transgressors. The result of the second report, which was in contrast with the premises previously established by this second sub-committee, was the legitimation of the use of early embryos for the production of “embryonic stem cells” and for “therapeutic cloning”. The third report confirmed the results and the proposals of the second report on the basis of the absolute freedom of scientific research and the principle that only “born” people are subjects capable of having rights.
Two observations bring out the weakness of the arguments of the second and third reports in particular: 1. a careful analysis of Japanese law and jurisprudence calls into question the validity of the central argument on which the conclusion of the second report is based, that is to say that “human embryos are not subject to the protection of criminal law”. Although it admits the validity of this law, which requires the defence of the embryo, this defence is held to begin only when the embryo is implanted in the womb: this is because a definition of when human life begins is absent in this report; 2. the concept of “human dignity” is very confused. In this way the fundamental principle of bioethics in relation to man, which is essentially made up of his “dignity” and his consequent “rights”, is not present.
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