Morals, Suicide, and Psychiatry: A View from Japan

13 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2003


In this paper, I argue that within the Japanese social context, the act of suicide is a positive moral act because the values underpinning it are directly related to a socially pervasive moral belief that any act of self-sacrifice is a worthy pursuit. The philosophical basis for this view of the self and its relation to society goes back to the writings of Confucius who advocated a life of propriety in which being dutiful, obedient, and loyal to one's group takes precedence over the desires of the individual selves that make up the group. I argue that this philosophical perspective poses formidable challenges to Japanese psychiatry (which accepts a contrary western perspective) because, as western psychiatry is based on the concept of autonomous individuality, the Japanese conceive of the self as socially embedded. Because suicide in Japan is viewed as a potentially honorable, virtuous, and even beautiful act of self-sacrifice expressing one's duty to one's group, the western perspective is quite foreign to the Japanese self-conceptual framework. Therefore, since Japanese psychiatry and law have embraced the western medical tradition of viewing suicide as a non-rational response to mental illness, which runs counter to the cultural view that suicide is a moral (and rational) act, I argue that western explanations of suicide present significant cross-cultural problems for Japanese psychiatry.

Suggested Citation

Young, Jerome, Morals, Suicide, and Psychiatry: A View from Japan. Bioethics, Vol. 16, pp. 412-424, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Jerome Young (Contact Author)

Keio University - Kanagawa ( email )

Hirota Mondo Heights, Dai-1
Shimotsuchidana 223-3-202
Fujisawa-shi 252-0807, Kanagawa


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