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Japan Debating Living Wills

July 28, 2016

The right to refuse life-extending medical care is well-established in the U.S. Millions of Americans have living wills instructing doctors not to give them certain kinds of treatment.

In Japan the idea is a novel one and being hotly debated.

Living Will photoIn the United States when you prepare your estate plan, you will be asked if you also would like to get a living will. When you go into the hospital, you also might be asked if you want to get one.

Living wills allow us to direct doctors not to give medical care that would artificially prolong our lives when we have no hope of recovering. These documents have legal effect and doctors are not liable for following their directives.

Japanese attitudes have traditionally been different than ours. There it is normal for doctors to extend life as long as possible. There is no formal, legal way to order doctors not to.

However, under pressure from a struggling economy and an aging population, the Japanese attitude is beginning to change according to Japan Today in "'Living wills' spur debate on right to die with dignity in Japan."

People in Japan are starting to create their own living wills, but doctors do not have to follow them. In fact many doctors fear getting sued by upset family members if they do follow the living wills. This is sparking a national debate over the issue.

Those in favor of them say they allow people to die with dignity while the opposition fears allowing the living wills could be the first step towards euthanasia.

It will be interesting to see how the debate ends up in Japan.

In the meantime if you do not have a living will and you would like one, in the U.S. you can and should visit an estate planning attorney to have one drawn up.

Reference: Japan Today (March 8, 2016) "'Living wills' spur debate on right to die with dignity in Japan."