If you're (like me) tired of predictable positions left, right and center, thirsting to see, hear and think something you've never seen, heard or thought before, try Masahiro Morioka's astonishing International Network for Life Studies website, which includes his Life Studies Blog. It's a "site for philosophy of life, critique of contemporary civilization, and an interdisciplinary approach to issues concerning life, death, and nature." Maybe it's partly that a mind made in another language walks in the spaces between our thoughts, off our beaten path. But I think Morioka is making the first footprints in new snow in any language.
For example, to break out of the right-to-life/ right-to-die deadlock in thinking about Terri Schiavo, take a look at his essay Two Aspects of Brain Dead Being. Of course Terri Schiavo is not brain dead, but the missing dimension Morioka illuminates is surely at the center of her story:
In 1989 I published a book, "Brain Dead Person,"(4) arguing that the death of humans should be considered from the viewpoint of human relationships. That is to say, the question whether brain death is human death deeply depends on the relationships that the brain dead person has had with each surrounding person at the bedside. . . . [A] father who has had deep intimate relationships with his son may hardly accept his son's death as long as the body is warm and moist. However, a physician who saw the boy's body only a week ago may easily believe his death because the physician has never had long intimate relationships with the boy. In that book, I argued that the essence of the concept "brain death" in terms of ethics lies not inside the brain, but just in the human relationships the brain dead person has had between him/her and the surrounding people. This theme "brain death as human relationships" was widely discussed in 1990s.
After I published that book, a medical student, 29 years old, became brain dead. Her name was Yoshimi Fujiwara, whom I met twice when she was alive(5). She was dead when I was in the United States. A year after her death, I met her mother, Yasuko Fujiwara, and talked a lot about Yoshimi's brain death. In this case, too, the mother and father did not accept their daughter's death when her brain death was medically confirmed. They were taking care of her body at the bedside until her heart beat stopped. When her father left the room, he stood by the door calling his daughter "Do your best!" Her mother put perfume on her daughter's brain dead body. They never thought their daughter was dead. And at the moment her heart beat stopped, they realized death really occurred on their daughter, finally accepting she would never come back.
I think there are two aspects, or realities, concerning human death; one is scientific/medical aspect that requires uniform criteria of death, while the other is philosophical/relationship-oriented aspect in which human's death depends on the human relationships between the dying patient and the surrounding people. Of course both aspects are important, but I want to emphasize the importance of the latter because our modern medicine and "rational" bioethics sometimes miss the latter reality in which most ordinary people actually live.