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Keywords:

  • agape;
  • altruism;
  • autopsies;
  • Jeremy Bentham;
  • bioethics;
  • brain death;
  • Buddhism;
  • cadavers;
  • Cartesianism;
  • Confucianism;
  • determination of death;
  • Joseph Fletcher;
  • Harvard Medical School;
  • Ogiwara Makoto;
  • medical miracles;
  • organ transplantation;
  • religious difference;
  • Utilitarianism;
  • waste;
  • window of opportunity

This essay argues that Japan's resistance to the practice of transplanting organs from persons deemed “brain dead” may not be the result, as some claim, of that society's religions being not yet sufficiently expressive of love and altruism. The violence to the body necessary for the excision of transplantable organs seems to have been made acceptable to American Christians at a unique historical “window of opportunity” for acceptance of that new form of medical technology. Traditional reserve about corpse mutilation had weakened and, especially as presented by the theologian Joseph Fletcher, organ donation was touted as both expressive of agape and a way of “updating” Christianity via the ethics of Utilitarianism. Many Japanese, largely Buddhist and Confucian in their orientation, view these changed valorizations as neither necessary nor patently more ethical than those of their own traditions.