REVERENCE FOR LIFE A Message for the Twenty-First Century from The Catholic Bishops of Japan The Catholic Bish […]
REVERENCE FOR LIFE
A Message for the Twenty-First Century from The Catholic Bishops of Japan
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
January 1, 2001
The Great Holy Year celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ was of special significance for the Catholic Church throughout the world.
It goes without saying that for us who believe in him, the birth of Jesus Christ is the basis of our reflections. In him we see the love of God who did not hesitate to send his only Son for us. That love is the source of our unwavering hope and joy.
Last year, the whole Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul II renewed its faith and gave thanks to God for the mystery of Christ’s birth two thousand years ago. It was indeed a special year of great joy for us all.
However, Japan’s society shows many characteristics that go counter to this joyful stance. Japanese society is marked today by anxiety and sadness. Economic stagnation due to the collapse of the “bubble economy,” the weakening of family bonds, violence in schools, shocking crimes by children and an increasing number of suicides by middle-aged and elderly people have led many people to think that there is no answer to our longing for light and support.
Yet, God made and loves people. Human life, God’s one-time gift to each of us, is sacred. That is the main reason the Catholic bishops of Japan have decided to present this message regarding life and humanity to the world.
In addition, scientific advances have made life more comfortable and convenient. The search for material comfort and happiness never ends and in this pursuit the life sciences and medical technology have made great advances. However, there is a real danger that we will try to “play God.”
This world does not belong solely to human beings, nor is full happiness to be found here. The world is God’s, and the fulfillment of human efforts will be found only in relation to God.
We hope that our reflections will give courage and hope to our sisters and brothers throughout Japan. We pray that God’s loving kindness will be poured out on all creation and especially on the people of Japan to whom we address this message.
Shimamoto Kaname, Archbishop of Nagasaki
Chairman, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
Chapter 1: The Message of Scripture
Chapter 2: The Troubled Family
A. Prenatal Diagnosis and the Disabled.
D. Capital Punishment
E. The Life Sciences
F. Brain Death and Organ Transplants
G. Embryo Research, Gene Therapy and Cloning
H. The Environment
1. We, the Catholic bishops of Japan, address this message not only to our fellow Catholics, but to all with whom we share this new century.
The 20th century
2. There are many reasons to reflect on the value of human life at the start of this new century, especially when we recall the miserable history of humanity in the last century.
The 20th century was unprecedented in human history for the slaughter of millions. It was a century of hi-tech murder, culminating in the development of nuclear weapons. The Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jews was the most famous of several attempts at mass murder. The 20th century also saw two world wars. In the second of them, Japanese troops were responsible for suffering and slaughter throughout Asia, notably in Nanjing and Okinawa.
In the last century, warfare engulfed civilian populations to an unprecedented extent, something that shows no sign of abating in this new century.
It was a century in which human life was treated lightly, of no more value than that of an insect. Totalitarianism, ideology, racism and the insatiable lust for power on the part of leaders are hallmarks of that century. In the face of all this and to help make our new century different, we want to reaffirm our conviction that life is more precious than anything else.
Economic priorities and the distortion of Japanese society
3. Japan rebuilt itself out of the ashes of World War II. However, many human values were sacrificed in the pursuit of economic development.
Placing our priority on economic development has led to putting our children through an examination hell for places in schools and has turned adults into cogs in an economic machine that allows no rest. As a result, family ties have weakened.
If we listen carefully to the voices from our schools and workplaces, we can hear the pain of those whose lives are being warped by our economic priorities. We judge people by their usefulness in achieving economic goals. As a result, the elderly, the handicapped and others who are not considered useful in the pursuit of profit are shunted out of the mainstream.
We are convinced that unless we change our values there is no meaningful future for Japan. We must reaffirm the value of each and every person and the sacredness of life.
Technological advances in the life sciences
4. In addition, as we prepared this message we kept in mind the growth of new technologies that are probing the mysteries of life itself.
Medical advances have made life more comfortable. Life spans have increased as previously undreamed-off treatments have become common. We admire and are grateful to the scientists who devote themselves to this work. However, there are certain God-given principles and boundaries, especially concerning life and death, that must not be ignored or overstepped.
The threat of environmental pollution
5. The 20th century also saw a rapid increase in the pollution of the environment. Auto exhaust and industry have put dangerous chemicals in our air. Industrial drainage has polluted the sea. Industrial waste, agricultural chemicals and sewage pollute the soil. Acid rain damages woodlands and lakes while driving some animal life to the verge of extinction. Dioxin and other industrial pollutants harm human and other life. Fish and other wildlife that live near drainage sites show alarming mutations. The life of the planet itself is threatened.
The responsibility for this situation is ours. By making economic progress and transient abundance our goal, it is we who have put the earth at such risk. If we do not change our selfish ways and give priority to life itself, there can be no hope for the future.
The gift of life that shines in a newborn child
6. All over the world today, even close to us, new life is raising its voice. Wrapped in its mother’s arms, that little life feels safe. It has not yet been buffeted by the world. For us to approach the mystery of life, perhaps we should consider the life of the newborn child.
When we stand before such a child, we put aside all other thoughts and are united in awe at the mystery before us. The naked child has nothing to do with social position or power. Before such a defenseless person, we all become gentler.
In addition, the parents and anyone else who sees a newborn child realize that a child is a gift from God. This is obviously true when the child is born as the fruit of deep love between a man and woman, but it is also true no matter what the circumstances of its birth. We know that each child has been given life by a Source that transcends human power and understanding.
God created and blessed humankind
7. This feeling we all have toward new life is a sign that, as the Bible teaches, all life is a special gift of God’s love.
God loved and chose us before the creation of the world. (cf. Ephesians 1:4)
“God created humankind in his own image.” (Genesis 1:27)
Life is a work of God, a gift of God. This is the unwavering belief of the Catholic Church. There is an absolute basis to the grandeur of human life and we may not interfere in that grandeur, no matter who we are.
We also wish to stress the Biblical teaching that after creating humankind, “God blessed them” (Genesis 1:28). In this we see God’s love toward humanity.
When someone close to us enters school, marries or starts a new job, we bless them. To bless is to hope for the best for others and to enter into their joy. At the same time, we pray that the new possibilities of the situation will bear good fruit. When the Bible tells us that God blessed the creation of human life, it teaches us that God rejoiced in our creation and hopes that the possibilities given us with life will be fulfilled.
Led and supported by God’s hand
8. The Bible clearly shows in many places how greatly God’s loving care for people supports us.
“Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30-31)
“It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14)
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:25, 32-33)
Can there be any greater source of strength to a human being than to know God rejoices in each human birth and hopes for our happiness? No matter what sort of troubles we encounter, this knowledge is a reliable source of hope and an encouragement to not despair.
Man and woman as cooperators in God’s work of creation
9. The Bible introduces the intention of God who created human life by saying, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (cf. Genesis 1:28). Clearly, God’s creation of human life is meant to be realized through the love of man and woman. Man and woman participate in God’s creating activity. While it is true that without God there can be no human birth, it is equally true that without the sharing of man and woman there can be no birth.
Human life is the fruit of God’s work, but it is realized through the love of a man and a woman. It is here that we must warn of the problems of irresponsible sex and intervention in life without consideration of God’s part in creation.
We cannot live alone
10. Furthermore, in the words “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), the Bible teaches us that we cannot grow in isolation. The Bible makes it clear that though we depend upon God for life, we cannot live, grow or flourish apart from other people. It was in answer to this basic human need that God said, “I will make him a suitable helper” (Genesis 2:18). 1
In the Bible, the human being to whom this suitable helper is given expresses his joy by saying, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). This is the joy of companionship, a joy that is eternalized by the bonds of marriage. As soon as the first human finds a “suitable helper,” the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24).
The union of these two people is threatened by our society’s emphasis upon efficiency, economic goals and egoism. Many tendencies in our society tear at the unity of couples. To resist these tendencies requires a strong commitment to that unity and to prayer. New life born of the bond between a husband and wife becomes the starting point for family life, life that is fulfilled in the love shared among all the members of the family.
11. We want to emphasize the fact that the Bible does not deal with human life and death merely on the biological level.
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
To love means to meet another in the uniqueness of his or her being and to serve one another’s happiness. To not love is to ignore the existence of others, thinking only of one’s own desires and needs, the very definition of egotism. The phrase “whoever does not love abides in death” speaks of a death that not physical, but spiritual. It is the death that comes from being controlled by one’s own self-centered desires.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to death, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
These words come from St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. In that letter, he tells us that no matter how much education we have, no matter what kind of social successes we have, no matter how many noteworthy services we perform, if we do not have love they are all wasted. Without love, life is sterile.
Not only does the spirit of one without love wither, but that person’s connection to other people also collapses. There is nothing else so important as love. Japanese society, which evaluates people on the basis of their educational background, social position and achievements, has lost vitality and joy because it has lost sight of love. The regeneration of Japan’s homes, schools and society as well as the life of each person depends upon reigniting the fire of love. We must foster the conviction that love is the highest value of all.
12. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). These words of Scripture teach us that unless our innate desire for the everlasting God is met, we cannot live a truly fulfilling life. Human life finds its fulfillment only in relation to God. Our society has lost sight of this important insight.
Instead of seeking an answer to the mystery of human existence, Japanese society has worked for “the food that perishes,” mere economic goals. It should not surprise us, then, that we are experiencing so much disruption and unease. We have ignored that which would nourish our spirits in favor of this-worldly goals and find ourselves in a rut. Christ’s words show us a way out of this dilemma.
“Work for the food that endures for eternal life.” This is a difficult command for us who are ruled by our selfish desires and settle for immediate gratification. Christ fully understood this difficulty and offered encouragement to his disciples. He told the young man who asked what is necessary to have eternal life that he must renounce his possessions, for one who does so receives a hundredfold (cf. Matthew 19:16-30). Though it is difficult to break our attachment to wealth and property, we must not let the difficulty keep us from achieving salvation. Life is a challenge. No matter how hard that challenge, meeting it is our glory. A person dies when he or she lives only by desire. The regeneration of Japan and we Japanese will occur only when we repent of our infatuation with material abundance and give priority to our relationship with God.
13. We want to look at yet another passage from Genesis (1:27): “God created humankind in his own image.” In these words we find the source of our responsibility for the earth as it endures pollution and environmental destruction.
In the ancient Middle East kings erected statues of themselves throughout their realms to proclaim their power over the area.
Based on this, we see that God’s declaration that humanity is his image on the newly-created earth means authority over the planet rests upon us. In other words, we are responsible for the order and harmony of the planet.
An honest look at history shows that we have not fulfilled that responsibility. The Biblical stories of Adam, Eve and their children show that the ruin of the world comes through human actions. Adam and Eve turned away from God and followed their own desires by eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, they were exiled from the garden to a land of where thorns grew thick. This story shows us that the order and harmony of the world have been shattered by human actions. The pollution of our environment calls into question the way in which we live. We must remember that the earth was created as a gentle home for life and that we must change the way we live in order to protect it.
From the cross to the resurrection
14. We wish to make it clear that the Scriptures do not merely present pretty words and stories. The Bible knows and shows that the world is a cruel place that echoes with the cries of the oppressed.
“The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything.” (Lamentations 4:4)
“Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine. Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. Young men are compelled to grind, and boys stagger under loads of wood. The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music. The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.” (Lamentations 5:10-15)
These verses refer to the state of the people during their conquest by Babylon. However, the sad picture they paint is still true in such places as the Nazi concentration camps, in the Nanjing massacre, in Rwanda, in Kosovo and in East Timor.
Human life is full of pain. But that is the life Christ chose. For those of us who know the way of the cross that Christ walked, pain and death are not the whole story of human life.
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15-20)
In Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity has been shown definitively that the absurdities of life do not lead to despair, but to new life. No matter how terrible the conditions we face, no matter how thick the darkness that surrounds us, no matter how threatened we are with death, we can find a hope that overcomes all this.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
This is how Paul sang out his joy over the victory of life over death in the resurrection of Christ. In order to join in this joy, we like Christ must love God and other people with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole strength.
15. We are born in a family and grow up in a family. The family enfolds, supports and develops life. It is a source of love and strength. In the family we learn the importance of our unique existence and are shown the value of living for those we love. Like a safe port that gives rest, comfort and hope to a tired sailor, the family provides a haven to us on the journey of life. And just as a sailor at sea takes comfort in knowing that there is a port awaiting him, knowing we have a family is a comfort to us even when we travel alone through the turmoil of life.
Therefore, when the family is troubled our lives are troubled, too. This is true whether we be elderly, newborn or in the prime of life. Holding the viewpoint that “crisis in the family is a crisis in life,” we wish to shed some light on various subjects related to the family today.
I. Couples in crisis
16. Today there is a worldwide weakening of the bond between married people.
Until recently, the divorce rate in our country was low compared to that in many other countries. In 1947, there were 79,551 divorces here. In 1998 the number reached 243,000.2 The number of young people who approve of divorce has increased. Combined with the tendency to delay marriage, have small families and even to avoid marriage altogether, these changes are shaking the foundations of family life. Formerly, the village community supported big families. Now, however, children grow up in a nuclear family with few or no brothers or sisters. For these young people, accepting a different person and sharing life with him or her is difficult, and it is among them that we see many cases of divorce.
The isolation of husbands and wives
17. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that the social structure of Japan today draws couples apart. In our competitive society, the rationalization of business has robbed families of husbands’ presence. The close ties that should exist between a man and his family have been weakened. Time to build relationships in the family is scarce. All of this is a big minus factor in raising the next generation.
Statistics for 19983 showing divorce among couples married more than twenty years doubling over the previous year indicate the fragility of even long marriages. With the workplace absorbing the husband’s energy, he is no longer able to relate with his wife and children. In such a fatherless family, should we wonder if a woman loses affection for her husband and comes to consider his existence irrelevant? Petitions for divorce by middle-aged women increasingly contain statements like, “Staying together is meaningless,” or “Even if it means financial hardship, I want to live as a free individual.”
We see many new phenomena that contribute to the increase of divorce today such as emotional and sexual immaturity, sexless marriages, domestic violence and mutual dependency that prevents each of the partners from being a responsible adult.
Women’s search for independence
18. In prewar Japan when the average life span was about 50 years, a woman’s life was devoted to raising her children and having done that, she could feel a sense of accomplishment. However, today when the average life span for women is more than 80 years, those who have finished raising their children wonder how to spend the remaining years. After years of a life described as “waiting for my husband or my kids to get home,” they begin to look for some sort of self-fulfillment apart from the demands of their families.
In this situation, marriages that used to hold together for the sake of the children begin to weaken.4 Many people think that it is worse for a child to live in a home where the parents do not get along. They think that so long as they find personal happiness and self-realization there is no problem. However, for this to happen it is essential that a couple cooperate to realize this sort of happiness. Patience and self-sacrifice are essential.
How a couple can live together while respecting individual differences is the question we face.
Youth in turmoil
19. The biggest burden in the breakdown of the family is laid upon children, especially young children. Strained relations between parents causes anxiety in the child. A child whose home has ceased to be a place of comfort will sooner or later seek comfort away from home.
We must not overlook the deep wounds children suffer when their parents’ marriage fails. How is a child to choose between father and mother when he or she wants both?
Attacked by social mores
20. It cannot be denied that the bonds between husbands and wives are being weakened by the values of modern Japanese society which emphasize immediate gratification and comfort. The commercialization of sex, promiscuity among youth and marital infidelity are the result of this emphasis and a brake on the search for true happiness.
Advances in medical technology have led to a separation between sex and reproduction and given women more control over conception. Gradually, people are coming to see children as products rather than gifts. This, too, is the result of society’s self-centered values.
We must reconsider the fundamental meaning of marriage in terms of humanity, the encounter between a man and a woman and children as gifts of God.
II. Building a truly good life
21. More than anything else, what we need is a renewed strengthening of couples’ bonds. The first step toward restoring these bonds is a deep encounter between husbands and wives. Mother Teresa spoke of the importance of this family encounter.
“Many factors in the industrial world suffocate the joy of loving. People have too much and they want more. They are discontent.
“A family in Australia with six or seven children talked together and decided not to buy a new television. They wanted to enjoy each other more completely. They had enough of what they needed for each other in each other.
“Instead of buying the television, they gave the money to me to do something for the poor Aborigines there.”5
Regard for one’s life companion and children is more important than work and financial gain. When we feel the warm care of another, our hearts find peace. When we know we have such support from our family, we find the strength and hope we need to face the storms of life.
We need to work together at this. We cannot make excuses, claiming to be too busy to engage in this encounter. We must not grudge the time it takes. It is no exaggeration to say that such attitudes kill the family bond.
A couple that really cares for each other becomes a model for their children who will be responsible for building the loving families of the future.
We need to renew the sense of partnership among couples. We need a deeper awareness that child care and “couple care” are a shared responsibility of a husband and wife. Therefore we must reexamine the common attitude that a man’s responsibility is outside the home while a woman’s is within it. Pregnancy, childbirth, childcare and the care of aged parents constitute a heavy burden that is placed upon women. They need much more understanding and cooperation from men. It is no longer unusual that women work outside the home and it is natural that they desire to continue in their work. In such cases, a husband must change his old idea of “man’s work.” Childcare, housekeeping and other chores must be shared and mutual understanding and cooperation are essential if the wife is to have a fulfilling life.
22. It is not merely sweet pleasures that await two people who marry. Disappointment and disillusionment sometimes sweep through their lives like angry waves. Their affectionate feelings for one another can be easily hurt. At times when they sense a wall between them they are tempted to despair and even are tempted to give up walking through life together. At times, it even seems as if their relationship is a heavy burden that cannot be put down.
If they give priority to their individual fulfillment, then it is natural to see the partner as a hindrance from which one should be free. They might even decide that divorce is a way to rescue their children from the disturbing influence of the parents’ bad relationship. However, though it goes against the current “wisdom,” we insist on the importance of maintaining the marriage. One reason for this insistence is that we are convinced that real human growth comes through loving self-sacrifice.
When we speak of love, we are not referring merely to the emotional level of likes and dislikes or personal pleasure. By love we mean striving for the happiness of another.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
A person grows through adversity and distress. When we give up on a marriage, saying, “I am disillusioned,” or “Our relationship was damaged,” or “Staying together has no meaning any more,” we are in fact straying from the way that leads to real human growth.
Some may rationalize their challenge to the possibility of promising unending love for another, but we know it is possible because love is a blessing from God. This is our faith. God blesses the vows a man and woman make before the altar: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
Furthermore, those who have been united to Christ in baptism are united to his willingness to face the Cross through the power of love. He gives his followers that same strength.
We can live like Christ. It is not easy. But, believing that Christ walks with a couple in their joys and pains gives them the hope they need to move forward. Through the unique experiences of each person, Christ shows each one’s special mission. For the couple, the blessings of baptism are lived out through their relationship and their shared mission.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Led by God
23. Yet another reason we say couples should not part easily is our faith that it is God’s guidance that brings them together. We are convinced that this is true not only of Catholics couples. The proverbial saying that a particular couple have been “linked by a red thread since a previous life” shows that even in society at large there is a sense that the encounter of a given man and woman involves some guidance that goes beyond human understanding. Our faith proclaims it more clearly: “God has brought these two together.”
God has definite reasons for bringing the two together. One is to continue the work of creation through the man and woman (cf. “Parents and Children,” below). Another is to give human beings suitable lifetime helpers since we cannot survive in isolation. It is God who gives us our partner, and that partner is God’s greatest gift to us.
To put it another way, my spouse is a special creation entrusted to me by God. The marriage vow is a trusting promise to God who asks each of the partners to take lifetime care of the other.
When we realize that the marriage bond is born of the overflowing love of God, we also realize that we cannot choose to break that bond when it encounters difficulties.
Before making the marriage vow, therefore, the man and woman must prayerfully discern if their union is indeed God’s will for them and if they can offer themselves to each other for a lifetime.
When love fails
24. Even while affirming what we have said above, we recognize the fact that many men and women are unable to fulfill the pledge of love they made in marriage. There are couples who no longer communicate because of differences in taste or ideals. There are couples whose interest in one another has faded because of differences in the pattern of their day-to-day life. There are couples whose love has chilled because of betrayal. There are couples who merely live together out of habit but without joy or affection. In short, many couples suffer because of the difficulty of living as spouses. Perhaps they might have found someone early on to help them through their difficulties, but unfortunately many couple do not find such help. In that case, opportunities are lost, solutions are not found, troubles increase and often a breakup looms.
Here we want to propose that in each area communities be developed that couples can approach with confidence for consultation and help. More than anywhere else, we sincerely want our local churches to be such communities where people’s joys and pains are met and shared in love and friendship. The Church has a vocation to accept these people and give them new light and hope.
Even with such community support and their own efforts, however, there are situations where for various reasons a breakup is unavoidable and people must try to live while bearing deep wounds in their hearts. These people especially need comfort, encouragement and support. We repent of the fact that until now the Church has often been judgmental of such people. We must embrace those who suffer the pain of not being able to fulfill the vows they made, encouraging them with the warm love of Jesus Christ as they continue their life journey.
We hope that those who have gone through the misfortune of divorce and have found someone else to be their companion on life’s journey will be supported by the Church with a mother’s embracing love.
I. Alienated sexuality
Sex as a commodity
25. We human beings exist as distinct unified persons. We cannot isolate sex from the totality of human existence as when, for example, it is turned it into a commodity that can be bought and sold. Yet, in many countries where consumerism prevails this is precisely what is happening. Posters, magazines, and advertizing that stimulate sexual desire are found throughout towns and cities. On television and the Internet we can see the global presentation of sex as a commodity. The easy availability of methods of contraception encourages this tendency even further. This merchandising of sexuality is one we view with grave anxiety and misgiving.
Ever since Japan entered its period of accelerated economic growth many Japanese have sexually exploited poor women in the developing countries of Asia.6 As a result, our entire nation’s view of the sexuality of women in Third World nations has become abnormal. It is also from this period that discussion arose about the forced use of “comfort women” by the Japanese military during World War II. More than disputing whether or not it was a national crime, we must face the fact that aggressive lust for power permitted treating women like commodities to be used for sexual pleasure. It is not just a matter of history; the question of a culture that could allow such a thing is one we must face today.
In the prosperity of the “bubble economy” talk of enjo kosai (school girls becoming “dates” for older men in return for money) became common among middle- and high-school students, something shocking beyond belief. When they asked the simple question “Why is it wrong for me to sell my own body?” the adults of Japan could not give a clear answer! Japanese society is sick.
One-time free love
26. Hiding their commercialism under the title of “free love,” television, movies, magazines and comic books aimed at young people irresponsibly encourage one-time sexual encounters, sex with many partners and behavior that violates the marriage bond. The increase in abortions, the weakening of marital ties, divorce and remarriage also raise heart-breaking doubts among the young about the possibility of permanent love. Those children grow up in and inherit this culture we have created. For the sake of the next generation should we not be thinking creatively about how to challenge today’s culture of inhuman sex?
Sex separated from reproduction
27. Sex between a man and woman necessarily includes the possibility of pregnancy and birth. However, in today’s climate of consumerism emphasis is placed solely upon sex as an expression of a couple’s emotional attraction to the exclusion of its reproductive aspects. With this background, unwanted pregnancies are quickly terminated. There are more than one million abortions in Japan each year, giving the country the title “Abortion Heaven.” What has happened to the values of Japanese society?
In the face of the unquestioned acceptance of the separation of sex from reproduction and a lack of a sense of responsibility toward the children who are born we think it essential that we seriously reflect upon whether our present situation contributes to human life and fulfillment.
II. Recovering the real meaning and power of sexuality
Sex is blessed
28. We human beings are sexual creatures from the moment of our birth. Even so, when we look back at history we can point out many religions that have made sex a taboo and even a crime. Even today there are religions that follow that line of thought. However, as the Bible says, God created humankind as man and woman (cf. Genesis 1:27). In other words, from the beginning of creation sex has been part of God’s blessings.
In biblical thought, however, there is neither separation of sex from reproduction nor valuing sex solely as a means of reproduction; sex is related to all aspects of human life. The naked openness that hides nothing between a man and a woman in sex symbolizes the depth of the mutual support and encouragement that human beings give one another as they walk through life. Through the sharing of sex, a man and a woman find comfort and joy for their tired hearts and discover the vitality and hope they need to face tomorrow. In sharing sex, a man and woman deepen their joy in loving and being loved and find the courage to face whatever trials life brings.
The foundation of the marriage bond
29. Sexuality is one of God’s great blessings to humankind. That blessing finds its perfection in marriage, a sacrament blessed by God and the world. Sex continually deepens and renews the life-giving bonds of shared love between a married man and woman.7 A man and woman who have been united by God deepen their respect and care and love for one another through their sexual relations. Sexuality is the strong foundation of the important community called family.8
Sexual incompatibility is one of the reasons given for the failure of marriages of middle-aged couples. Though we agree that there may be many reasons for this, we cannot ignore the fact that the structure of modern Japanese society makes communication between a man and a woman difficult. Fatigue in the man brought on by overwork, anxiety in the woman brought on by the man’s lack of understanding regarding housework and child care, job postings of men away from home, etc. all make a couple’s communication and sharing difficult. The environment in which couples live is not at all suitable soil for human relationships.
Perhaps many men have the illusion that the gaps in their marital relationship, the lack of any sharing from the heart, can be filled by sex. These men must understand that sex cannot replace the dialogue and sharing that is lacking in their too-busy lives. Sex is not a replacement for communication. Restoring the real meaning and power of sex will require resisting the present reality of our society. The first step toward achieving that is to restore heart-to-heart communication.
Responsibility for new life
30. The sharing of sex necessarily entails the possibility of conception and birth. While sex is an expression of the close love between a man and woman, it is also the means by which humanity gives birth to the next generation. And so, the nature of sex requires an openness to accepting responsibility for new life.9 We believe that no one can forget that God’s will and activity are involved in sex. Therefore, we want to reaffirm what we said above: “While it is true that without God there can be no human birth, it is equally true that without the sharing of man and woman there can be no birth.”
When we approach birth as a work of God’s creation, we have grave misgivings about our society’s easy acceptance of a couple’s selfish use of sex. We wish to point out that among those who accept a “contraceptive mentality”10 are those who erroneously place the self or human beings at the center of creation.
However, we do not favor the opposite extreme that would say, “the more children, the better,” and thereby avoid making responsible choices.11 Recent popes have emphasized that for the sake of their children couples must prayerfully, lovingly and responsibly consider their situation regarding the number of children they already have, child care, education, finances and environmental factors.12
Since birth is connected intimately with the will of God and the conscientious choice of the couple, governments and other public bodies may not interfere in the matter.13
31. The Catholic Church has recommended that natural methods be chosen when birth control is necessary.14 This is based upon a desire to respect the needs of the woman’s health and the physical condition of the partners, but with the added desire for mutual respect and love between the couple and in the hope that in accordance with the will of God they may be blessed with children at a suitable time.15
Of course, abortion and decisions based upon selfish thoughts of personal comfort go against this orientation and must be avoided.16
C. Parents and Children
I. Parents and children facing crisis
The lost sense of the mystery of life
32. We would now like to touch upon the problems of parents and children. First of all, we are made uneasy by the modern loss of a heartfelt sense of awe at the mystery of childbirth. As we have said above, the creation of a human being is an act of God in which a man and a woman cooperate. However, as a result of technological progress in family planning, the life sciences and medicine, some people have come to the opinion that “We make children” or “We can do with them as we please.” The ability to easily produce children through artificial insemination from sperm banks and the ability to choose the sex of a child has intensified that prideful way of thinking.
This kind of attitude, which has had a deep impact upon modern consciousness, has extremely dangerous aspects. Already it has led to such selfish reasoning as “I want to prevent the birth of a handicapped child.” As such a child grows up, he or she faces rejection in comments like “hideous” or “useless existence” that dismiss another’s life.
Life comes from God. We are born and guided through life according to God’s will. Our unlooked-for joys and pains come from God. Our task is to discern how to accept and live with them. We strongly affirm that human life and personality must be viewed in relation to God and eternal life.
Mothers at a loss in child rearing
33. In Japan we no longer see people suffering from hunger as we did just after the war. However, what we do see are many parents, especially mothers, who were raised without ever feeling the joy of being loved and therefore have never learned to love. When they run up against the difficulties of raising a child, they are at a loss for what to do. Many fathers live as company men and simply take it for granted that they can leave child rearing to their wives. These men turn their eyes from their lonely wives worn out trying to raise children in isolation.
Many parents who do not have a clear idea of what it is to be human fall into thinking that showering children with money is how one shows love. They spend money to send their children to good cram schools, diligently push to get them into prestigious schools, follow their children’s commands regarding televisions and air conditioners in their private rooms and give them mobile phones, thinking they are valuing the child’s freedom. This is not love.17
In this situation, mothers vie with one another in meeting social standards of ability, chasing after early education programs and comparing their children’s intelligence, increasing the trend toward isolation. It is no exaggeration to say that more than anyone those who need help in raising children are women.
Having few children ignores human nature
34. In our society where there is so little shared joy at the existence of life, the great stresses and financial costs of rearing children lead increasing numbers of people to think that even if they marry there is no need to bear children.18
We sometimes hear comments about how the shift to small families has a good side in that it will lessen urban congestion, improve the housing situation and alleviate competition for places in schools. Some ask if, given the problem of the world population explosion, reducing the birth rate in developed countries might not be a way to reduce environmental damage.
In Japan’s case, however, the shift to small families aggravates the problems associated with the aging of our population, lessens the rich diversity that children should encounter in society and causes a loss in vitality among children. The trend to having few children involves many problems that must not be easily disregarded.
“Selfish.” “Out of control.” “Can’t take care of themselves.” “Unable to express emotions.” “No concentration or perseverance.” “Always think it’s others and society that are in the wrong.” “No sense of perspective.” These are frequently pointed out as characteristics of today’s children. On the other hand, regarding parents we hear “Overprotective,” “They spoil their kids,” “They have no standards for raising children.”
Overprotectiveness and excessive parental interference have produced parents and children who cannot function apart each other. Now we see the spectacle of people raised in such circumstances becoming parents without ever having grown up, and abandoning their own child-rearing responsibilities at a loss for how to go about them. We cannot ignore the minuses arising from the phenomenon of small families.
When people encounter a variety of ways of living, most of us are stimulated and deepen our understanding of humanity. In raising children, making a priority of economic abundance and the enjoyment of a pleasant life gnaws away at their true happiness and neglects their humanity.
Parents consumed by the desire to live in comfort and freedom
35. We cannot deny the fact that our society does not provide hope and joy in marriage or family.19 There are, of course, reasons to say “I’ll lose my freedom,” “It’s expensive” or “The responsibility is heavy.” However, there is a problem in modern society when thought stops there. It is sad when a society has lost the ability to experience the fullness of life and the dynamism of love and sees responsibilities only as burdens.
Parents who become enemies
36. Recently there have been many cruel crimes perpetrated by children. Even though in each case there are unique motives for the crime, when we analyze them we find common elements. Among them are problems at school and their parents’ attitudes.
When parents are imbued with the value society puts on educational background and think that having a good academic record is the highest human aspiration, this attitude makes a strong impression on their children from an early age. For children who are under the illusion that getting good grades is the most important thing in life it is natural to feel lost at school and at home when they hit a wall and feel they cannot make progress. In a sense, it is understandable that a child unable to live up to parents’ expectations and feeling cornered directs its anger at the parents and various third parties. To rescue such children what is needed more than anything else is a courageous change of values on the part of parents.
II. Protecting life
First of all, love
37. Living is not easy in any age. The responsibility of parents is to give their children the strength to lead a truly human life through teaching them that their life is a gift from God richly blessed with possibilities, giving them a sense of hope and gratitude, and nurturing their innate kindness. This requires first of all giving children a sense of their parents’ warm and unwavering love. This becomes the foundation upon which the child can build a life.
Children are looking for emotional attachment. It is not enough to give them “things”; we must give our hearts. This is the basis of love. A child must realize in the depths of its heart that she or he is truly loved. It is important that an infant experience frequent physical contact, being held closely, embraced and petted. This gives the child the conviction that he or she is loved. As children grow, it is important to see things from their point of view, playing and enjoying conversation with them. We must not forget to make time for children. Parents who encounter each child as an individual, letting them see that just like the child adults feel joy and anger and are enthusiastic about life, make their relationship tender and show the way to be kind and thoughtful.
When this happens, a child finds being with his or her parents attractive, something we need these days when many children live with pent-up anger.
Breaking the spell of academics
38. There is a 19th century poem that says that to teach a child one should it praise three times out of five and scold it twice. The saying taught the importance not only of teaching, but also of the need to both praise and correct.
A negative self image is characteristic of Japanese children.20 Behind this is the fact that from an early age most Japanese children are thrown into the world of entrance exams and competition for places in school. Always being rated according to one’s grades or what kindergarten or school one got into, children have no other standard by which to judge themselves.
If parents would sincerely tell their children, “School isn’t everything,” “Even if you can’t study or your grades are bad, you are special,” “Everybody has different talents and you have your own,” many children would be saved. Children whose parents compare them with other children and try to control them for self-centered reasons lose the joyous energy that comes from knowing they are loved and it becomes hard for them to find any meaning in life. If children are to find life-giving hope, parents must first free themselves from the spell of academic achievement.
Teaching values and humanity
39. It is clear that television, mobile phones, the Internet and the speedy development of new information and communication systems are in fact reducing communications between young people and their families.21 We do not wish to attack scientific progress. However, we have misgivings about growing children who are just beginning to think about life being swallowed up by its influence. Information is important, but there is something more important: person-to-person encounter. A heart that can sympathize with the pains, sorrows, joys and hope of others is the most important thing. The first place one learns and experiences that is the family.
While recognizing that in a modern society that gives importance to diverse values it is difficult to show children basic values, we want to stress that parents must make more effort to instill in their children the values and vision of humanity by which they themselves live. In light of the fact that norms for virtue and logic have become fuzzy, we believe that more than anything else the most important work of parents is to teach children the firm conviction that there is a transcendent being, that human life is a journey toward God who hopes and works for the happiness of each person throughout life, and that through love for one another we are united with eternal life.
Raising children requires the cooperation of all
40. People do not become exemplary parents all of a sudden. Inexperienced parents need time to grow through their experience and mistakes. A generation ago, the local community provided the support they needed. Even when problems arose between parents and children and the children were more than the parents could handle, the loving care and support of the community helped the child and encouraged the parents. But nowadays urbanization has lead to the isolation of families. Communities that can provide a familiar setting for parents to work out difficulties and where things can be discussed when they seem to reach a dead end have disappeared. The isolation of mothers perplexed by difficulties is an especially big problem today.
We want to challenge fathers to get more actively involved in child care. We also challenge neighborhoods to develop into communities that can nurture parents and children.
Even when a father and mother realize and actively share responsibility for child care, that is not enough. In order that couples need not limit the number of their children against their will, the social welfare system must be quickly improved to provide more nursery schools, improved child care, etc. Then parents can give birth to and raise children with peace of mind.
We in the Church also have a serious responsibility. There is a pressing need for us to establish networks of cooperation and communication regarding child care. Community building must be accepted as a basic mission of the Church. Human relations in the Church are different from those in companies or schools. Directing its efforts toward the people of the neighboring community and going through various trials with that community has deep meaning for it as an open Church.
Children also raise their parents
41. A child is the greatest blessing that God gives to the life of a man and woman who love each other. Parents who are blessed with a child are given a new reason for living through their relationship, they learn many things and grow. They experience the joy of loving and can taste the fullness of life through their relationship with their child. Parents must not forget to be grateful to their children for what they bring to the relationship.
However, there are also couples who are not blessed with children. We must be more aware of the deep pain of couples, especially of women, who bear this burden. Moreover, when her husband fails to understand her pain and refuses to do what might be done for the sake of conception, the wife is driven deeper into loneliness. In this situation it is essential that the couple talk and share with each other and cooperate in finding a solution. Regarding this, we wish to stress the importance of the husband’s understanding and cooperation.
When we maintain that the birth of a human being is the will of God, we are not making a negative judgement upon those who are not so blessed. We are only recommending that everyone have a positive attitude toward the situation in which they find themselves. There are many families that have adopted children from other countries who have been abandoned or orphaned by war. Even without ties of blood, these families are tightly united by ties of love. There are also childless couples who devote their energy to serving their community. In any case, one way to deal with this situation is for couples to discuss what they can do to share their love with the community and unfortunate children.
D. Our Aging Society
I. A sense of unease
An aging society
42. Along with remarkable economic development and progress in medical technology, we have seen a great increase in the average life span. The average Japanese life span is now the longest in the world. On the one hand this is reason to rejoice, but on the other hand many people are confused about how to live in an aging society. Japanese society does not have a model for how to handle or evaluate this phenomenon. What kind of heart is needed in this sort of society?
In the past there were people who were blessed with a remarkably long life, however they were exceptions. There has never before in history been a situation where the majority of people lived beyond the age of 80. In other words, there is no place or time in history to which we can turn for an example of how to deal with our aging society.
From the point of view of history, the past few decades are no more than a moment. Before any preparations could be made, the confusion caused by the aging of society has reached every element of Japanese society all at once. We are presented with the challenge to deal with and live in an aging society.
Neglected by society
43. The extraordinary economic development we have achieved is built upon efficiency, management and utilitarianism, the survival of the fittest. That survival depends upon taking care to maximize one’s abilities. People with abilities and achievements are praised and given status; those with less ability or disabilities are shunted aside. The elderly find themselves in this situation. In a society where such values are the main stream, it is impossible to develop a view that values the elderly.
The fact of the matter is that when someone reaches a set age he is removed from the labor market by an almost mechanical process, is removed from the social flow and is forced to live in uncertain financial conditions on an inadequate pension. When he leaves the “front lines” the retiree is removed from involvement in society and cultural stimulation and information. Furthermore, as strength and memory gradually decline, whether he wants to or not, he has to depend upon other people. In order to live old age serenely and without negative feelings, he needs a new set of values to replace the competitive values of society.
Families have no leeway
44. It must be pointed out that the environment that surrounds the elderly, especially the family, is not a hope-filled place.
At the same time that Japan has become the country with the longest average life span in the world, there has been a serious decline in the birth rate. The ability of the family to provide for its elderly members has seriously weakened. Children in their 50’s and 60’s who take care of parents in their 80’s and beyond are no longer rare. Because of the tendency to have small families the number of marriages between only children has increased, resulting in a single couple’s having to care for four parents. The question of who in the family will take care of the parents is becoming a serious problem.
In the traditional patriarchal family the care of parents was entirely entrusted to the women. The number of women who are overcome by fatigue from bearing this great burden is not small and cases of family collapse resulting from that are not rare either. It is also clear that men who must fulfill their quota of work at their jobs do not have the emotional leeway to care for their parents. Nor can it be overlooked that in families where children are preparing for school entrance exams the presence of an elderly person can be considered an annoyance. There are also many elderly people who have entered homes for the aged but then suffer loneliness because they are neglected by their families.
45. Financial worries darken the lives of more and more of the elderly. In a society shaped and controlled by consumerism and commercialism the fear arises that elderly people might not have the financial wherewithal to spend their old age with peace of mind. Only a small percentage of people are guaranteed an adequate pension. The majority live uneasily on an insufficient income. Most elderly people without financial resources feel humiliated and powerless when they must receive publicly-provided medical care.
The increase in local activities directed toward the elderly and the creation of ways to involve them is good, however it is a disturbing fact that some of this is driven by commercial interests that target the elderly. Even if that is not always the case, it is sad that these opportunities can only be taken advantage of by those who are financially comfortable. The weakened ability of families to handle the financial burdens is a problem beyond the scope of the family. It is a problem for local and national government.
II. Toward the fulfillment of life
46. There are seasons in a person’s life. The Bible says the following about the various times of life:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; … a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Old age comes to all. There is no human being who can avoid it. Nonetheless, it thrusts new challenges upon us. First of all, the qualities of youth we once gloried in – vitality, strength, quick wits, agility, fertility, beauty – must all be given up bit by bit. No one likes that.
When you let go of the work that has been your occupation and preoccupation contacts with other people lessen, you need the help of others in all sorts of circumstances and you see the world you built being changed by your juniors. Eventually as you grow older, you become unable to eat without assistance and even need help going to the toilet. Looked at from the perspective of one’s values as a youth, it is an absolutely humiliating situation to always see the faces of people you must rely upon.
Prerequisite to accepting such conditions positively as a gateway on the way to completing the journey to God are definite values, a certain view of life.
Drawing life from the experience of the aged
47. Japan today is ruled by principles of efficiency and utilitarianism. When viewed by those standards, the elderly whose powers of mind and body are in decline have no contribution to make to society. However, human society is supported and enriched not only by such “usefulness.” The elderly have a rich fund of experience and wisdom that comes with years. The existence of elderly people who have passed through and accumulated many rich experiences is in itself a human treasure, a source of riches. Their presence provides answers to many of life’s problems and becomes a light on life’s journey. In addition, they show us the way to restore humanity in today’s society which is becoming more and more inhuman as it heads down a blind alley.
In the face of the modern propensity to build society based upon information offered by the mass media, the experience of the elderly offers a great service in conveying the culture, traditions and view of life of a people. From this point of view, both at home and in society we must respect the elderly, and develop a willingness to listen to their voices.
Viewing the far shore
48. The young generation is expected to put its abilities and energy to use for their families, their workplace and for society. Everyone around them expects that and their contribution to society must be highly valued. However, they are turned into cogs on the gears of industry, made to work without the leisure they need to restore their tired bodies and spirits. Though they are human beings whose life is a journey to God there is no for leeway for them to think about the most important questions because they are absorbed in worldly occupations.
Looked at from that point of view, liberation from the workplace is a blessing for the elderly. They have been given the freedom and time to reflect freely on the most important human issues of life and death.22
The ultimate goal of our lives is encounter with the eternal God. Old age and death are gateways through which we all must pass on the way to that definitive encounter. Old age is a special time to squarely face that gate. While accepting the various negative aspects of aging, we look beyond them to God who guides and with open arms warmly welcomes us.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1, 4).
From the viewpoint of the eternal God, do not the elderly who appreciate each day of life bring a richness to our modern society that values worldly profit while neglecting humanity?
49. A priest who came to Japan and worked generously as a beloved missionary introduced the following poem before he peacefully left this world:
The Greatest Task
What is the greatest task in this world?
– To grow old with a joyful heart,
– To rest when you want to work,
– To be silent when you want to speak,
– To be hopeful in the face of despair,
– To meekly and tranquilly bear one’s cross.
To bit by bit loose the bonds that tie us to this world is indeed a great work.
– When one cannot do anything else, to humbly give in.
In the end, God leaves us the best work, prayer.
– Even when they can do nothing else, to the last we can put our hands together in prayer,
Praying for God’s blessings upon those we love.
And when it is all over and I am on my death bed, I may hear God’s voice saying, “Come, my friend, I have not abandoned you.”23
For the elderly, prayer is the indispensable activity of directing one’s life toward God. At the same time, their prayers for the happiness of those they love and the whole world is a service by which they break through the walls of loneliness and alienation and are connected with God and all humankind.
From the Cross to the Resurrection
50. Realistically speaking, old age is not a light burden; at times it is a heavy cross for both the elderly and those who live with them. Actually caring for old people involves many unattractive elements. Sometimes when they have hurt each other or when the pain of having to live in the situation becomes unbearable, care givers may hope to be free of the burden of the elderly person. Likewise, the elderly are sometimes tormented to the point of despair, thinking it would be best to die quickly. In this situation, it is essential that neither the old person who must accept the assistance of others nor the helpers lose sight of each other as individuals. As Christ’s words “just as you did to one of the least of these, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40) make clear, in giving heartfelt service to an old person we really do encounter God and enrich our own lives.
Looking at the reality of how Japanese society has cared for the elderly until now, we wish to challenge men to recognize their serious responsibility in this regard so that this heavy burden will not fall solely upon women. The whole family, especially the husband and wife, must discuss how to cooperate and supplement each other’s efforts.
In order that the family caring for old persons not be isolated, the need for neighborhood support must not be forgotten.
We often see how trying to bear the burden by themselves can lead to an unfortunate conclusion when a family’s best efforts exhaust their energy. There are limits to what a family can do by itself in caring for the elderly. In order to provide a place where those caring for the elderly can find someone with whom to discuss their problems, offices must be set up in neighborhoods to provide the necessary assistance. In addition, family members and local support groups must make active use of such assistance ranging from daycare and short-stay care to residential group- and nursing homes.
However, the elderly person separated from the family for either a short or a long time by entering some special care facility must still feel independent and a real member of the family; therefore the family must make frequent opportunities to gather. The old person as well as the rest of the family are asked to show love, forgiveness and gratitude. It is that which leads each of them to the eternal life of God.
51. When newspapers and magazines deal with prenatal diagnosis, they present many voices of people who point out prejudice and discrimination toward handicapped persons.24 Among those people are people with disabilities who, considering the discrimination they themselves have faced, say that prenatal diagnosis is kinder than making children face such discrimination. Our society has reached the point where such unthinkable things can be said. Our attitude toward disabled persons is the problem.
There was a report that a father whose child had Down’s Syndrome asked for and received a transfer to the United States in the late 1980’s. There the child was neither stared or pointed at, nor refused admission to swimming pools or gym classes. The father wrote, “They accepted him as he is. Imagine how much this lightened our burdens.” After seven years, the family returned from America. Their impression at that time was that Japan is uninformed about Down’s Syndrome and that there are not enough workplaces for people with the syndrome. The father said that Japanese still tend to view the disabled coldly.
In this, Japan is still a country where people with disabilities cannot live easily. We cannot think about prenatal diagnosis without reference to this situation.
At present, we can see both advantages and disadvantages in prenatal diagnosis. Among the advantages are the possibility that early discovery of hereditary diseases can make preventive measures possible, the prediction and prevention of difficulties in delivery, treatment of hereditary problems in utero, and in the case of children whose congenital defects cannot be corrected, the parents can prepare themselves before the birth by securing the necessary social and spiritual support in advance. There are also, however, disadvantages. When it becomes known that someone is a carrier of some health problem, that person may face discrimination in insurance, employment and marriage. A decision to have an abortion because of a diagnosis of a defect in the child not only ignores the dignity of life, it also denies the disabled person’s right to live. And, what advantage is there in knowing in advance about conditions for which there is as yet no prevention or cure? Doesn’t it merely increase discrimination against the disabled?
At present, many pregnant women receive prenatal diagnosis and when some chromosomal abnormality is diagnosed most of them choose to abort the pregnancy.25
Though at first prenatal diagnosis was introduced as a way to examine the possibility that a child might be born with a serious disability, nowadays it has become accepted as a means to prevent the birth of disabled persons. In our society, it is essential that we realize the existence of the sort of severe discrimination against the disabled that we referred to above. There are people who even think that certain kinds of human beings should not live. This is a big influence on the way people see the disabled and becomes social pressure leading to the easy acceptance of abortion.
As we saw above, the progress of medical science that allows us to know if a child has a possible genetic disability before it is born is praiseworthy. However, we must sound a warning against it when prenatal diagnosis becomes an easy way to choose abortion. Such eugenic selection of which children can be born drives people’s consciousness of the disabled further into the background and encourages discrimination.
The burden of disability
52. When parents come to know that the child in the womb has a handicap, in their perplexity they ask, “Why us?” Some are driven to uneasily worry, “What will the child’s future be? How can this child live in a cruel world?” Some in their suffering think, “This child is pitiful. It might be better off not being born.” Their emotions gradually become more and more negative.
Living with a handicap is certainly not easy. Those who do so have said such things to us as, “Why am I the only one like this? Sometimes I want to curse my luck, and even God,” “What caused me to be like this? Is it my fate from a previous life? Is it someone’s fault?” “Sometimes I want to throw it all away and die” When they speak so directly of the many hardships they endure, we are overwhelmed and cannot offer glib words of comfort
Why God, the loving creator, gave these persons such handicaps is a divine mystery. Faced with such a great question, we cannot provide answers that will fully satisfy the hearts of those who bear disabilities. However, we can clearly affirm that human happiness and value and the splendor of a truly human life are not linked to whether or not one is disabled. Furthermore, when viewed in the light of faith, we can proclaim that everything is in the loving hands of God.
From burden to liberation
53. We know disabled persons who look positively at their disabilities, think their lives good and say, “I’m grateful to my parents for giving me birth.” There are parents who proudly say, “It is good to have lived with this child. My own vision has been expanded and I have met many people. This would have been impossible in an ordinary life. This child has changed my life and helped me grow.” There are even handicapped people who assert that “disability is uniqueness,” like a strong will, a good memory, height, singing ability etc. For people to develop that attitude means they have made extraordinary efforts, been supported by those around them and have had wonderful encounters with others.
Happiness is something we find for ourselves. We want to affirm that no matter how great the painful burdens of living with a disability, life is far greater. Life is a gift from God. It is a mistake to make negative value judgements like “Children born with a disability are unfortunate” or “They’re pitiful” and to weigh the richness of a whole life simply in terms of a disability.
Life is very rich. It enfolds wonderful possibilities. The disabled person, too, learns many things through encountering other people and is liberated from confinement. Parents of children with disabilities as well as those who encounter disabled persons in the community find that their vision is broadened and liberated. In that liberating journey, each person learns to love and finds his or her life enriched.
Discrimination against the disabled and a new view of disability
54. Unfortunately, it cannot be denied that discriminatory attitudes toward the disabled are still deeply rooted in modern Japanese society. These attitudes are demonstrated by parents who say “It’s embarrassing” or in-laws’ barbed words to the mother like, “Our family has never had anything like this before. It’s your fault the child was born this way.” Further, society’s mistaken values that measure human worth in terms of abilities and school records are at work in the words of ordinary parents who protest to kindergarten principals and school teachers, “Don’t put anyone with a handicap in class with my child. They will hold the class back.” Even in such casual phrases as “How sad, I want to help,” there is at work a sense of superiority on the part of people who are not disabled.
Fortunately, in recent times our society is asking how we can understand handicaps and attitudes toward disability are changing greatly. Though ignorance, prejudice and discrimination are still firmly planted in society, generally speaking they are being gradually overcome. Furthermore, as people approach disabled persons with an attitude and posture of compassion and sympathy, they will come to understand that “disability is uniqueness.”26
Aiming for a barrier-free society
55. All of us, whether we have disabilities or not, have been given a precious lifetime through which to journey toward God. While deeply respecting one another’s unique existence, we must share our strengths to help each other through that journey. Building an environment in which persons with disabilities can live with hope is the responsibility of all of us. There are limits to what families can do.27 We need to move from a social service system that focuses on the family to one that actively involves the community. The increasing phenomenon of disabled persons who achieve independence from their families’ care through group homes and voluntary assistance programs is a very hopeful sign. As a fellowship with roots in the local community, the Church has a responsibility not only to applaud those efforts but also to actively involve itself in them.
When “the powerless” become actively involved in schools, workplaces and society, we all experience anew the splendor of human life. Our interpersonal encounters are enriched. In Japan today, poisoned by materialism, the emphasis on productivity and humanity-destroying fierce competition, the presence of disabled people is a treasure that shows the basic beauty of life.
The Vatican’s message for the International Year for Disabled Persons says, “The quality of a society and a civilization are measured by the respect shown to the weakest of its members.”28 We want to see Japan become a barrier-free society where everyone’s individuality is respected without regard for disabilities and where everyone has free access to involvement in society and the Church.29
I. The Difficulty of Living
The growing number of suicides
56. According to the National Police Agency, in 1999 the number of suicides exceeded 30,000 for the second year in a row.30 This is the number of those who actually killed themselves, but it is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the number of those who seriously considered or attempted suicide. The number of those who were discovered by others while attempting suicide and were taken to hospitals for treatment is probably extremely high.
It is tragic when someone who has lived many years and has the possibility of a rich future decides to cut life short. There is no way any else can understand the deep suffering that drives a person to attempt suicide.
A middle-school student bullied by classmates, despairing of help from cowardly teachers and unable to speak with his parents runs away from home and ends his life. A young woman in her 20’s, entangled in a romantic problem and betrayed by the man she trusted, in a fit of despair throws herself from the platform in front of an oncoming train. An 18-year-old woman abused by a parent in childhood and anxious about an eating disorder resulting from that trauma is rushed to the hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. A middle-aged man worn out by overwork and unable to meet the expectations of his boss and coworkers decides to kill himself. An old person jumps from the roof of an expensive nursing home, disappointed at the lack of visits from children and grandchildren. There are many examples of such motives.
What is suicide?
57. When we try to think anew about what suicide actually is, we get a not easily explained glimpse of the human mystery. Generally speaking, suicide can be defined as “the act of intentionally ending one’s own life,” but there are other ways of putting it.31
How a human being completes a lifetime is a serious subject. There have been ages and cultures in which it was considered a duty to follow one’s master in death. In our own country’s history, generals defeated in battle would often commit suicide by “harakiri.” Even today we see cases where a person stakes his life as a way to protest doubts about his innocence. Such situations are suicides, but they can be considered special cases that involve self-assertion based upon convictions. In addition, there are many cases when people who suffer from depression or addiction kill themselves. Doubts remain as to whether or not these people are really able to consider and make normal judgements about life and death and whether their suicide is clearly a matter of their own will. Suicide is an important subject upon which more careful research in every field is necessary both now and in the future.
Without forgetting these problems regarding suicide, we want to convey our reflections on the option for death in the face of deep suffering.
58. Even when their motives differ, the common thread among those who commit suicide is the fact that they have “hit a wall.” Others look at them and say things like, “Why can’t you handle a bit of pain?” or “If you die, it’s all over; hang in there a bit and things will get better,” or “Hey, there are lots of people worse off than you.” But those voices do not get through to the sufferers. As far as they are concerned, their pain is hell. They are in agony and do not know why. Crushed by the weight of their suffering, they cannot see anything else. “If I die, this will end. There is nothing else for me.” This is the common rationale for suicide.
Psychiatrists and counselors point out that though people who attempt suicide really want to die, they also really want someone to help them.
Tragedy ensues when these people are unable to find someone in their community to help and understand them. Even when physically it appears that because they live in a family and go to work or school they are not isolated, they are in fact mentally isolated. The conviction that there is no one to turn to and that they must bear their suffering all alone is the root of their sickness.
II. Living the life we have received
If we turn our eyes to God
59. We know that life is full of thorns and briers and that for weak and easily hurt humankind it is difficult to get through life. There are indeed times when all comfort disappears from our lives and terrible darkness envelops us. We can find no light by which to carry on life in the face of despair.
No matter how great the pain, no matter how deep the darkness, we must not give up on life. Even when life seems to be one huge pain, it still contains infinite possibilities. It is said that in the darkness of suffering there are two doors. One opens easily and leads to a world of despair. The other, though hard to open, leads to hope. No matter how heavy it might be, we must struggle to open that door. It may seem like an agonizing struggle to accept death but when we pass through that darkness, we find the light of life awaits us. Just as Christ who was swallowed up by death was then wrapped in the brightness of the Resurrection, those who bravely face their suffering in the here and now will later say, “It is good that I did not die then.” Such times are a necessary preparation for knowing the wonder of life in the depths of our hearts.
Life is a gift from God. God who gave us life certainly gives us the strength we need to live it. No matter how much the earth seems darkened by thick clouds, beyond those clouds shines the light of God who loves us eternally. Raising our gaze to that and finding hope is the blessing of faith that becomes strength.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
The Catholic Church has always disapproved of suicide because it goes against the will of God who gives life.32 This is based upon our faith that if we set our sights on God’s eternal love, then absolute despair is impossible.
Answering the cry for help
60. On the other hand, as we have already mentioned, there are many cases where responsibility for suicide does not rest solely with the person who commits the act. We who share responsibility for the circumstances that drove the person to suicide are challenged to examine the situation. If while desiring death suicidal persons also have a deep desire for someone to help, then it is our responsibility when suicide is not prevented.
Since the advent of modern times, the world has focused on economic activities. Human values that do not contribute to economic activities have not been appreciated. As a result, our society focused on economics severs the relations between people, gradually erodes an atmosphere where neighbors support one another, and now even endangers relationships within families. Human relations are supposed to be the most important thing in this world, yet we have built a society that cripples them. People who commit suicide are victims of that society.
In Japan, several activities are being carried on with the hope of somehow preventing suicide. There are the police and independent groups, especially citizens’ groups like Life Line, that provide telephone counseling. The medical profession has grappled for many years with the problem of suicide prevention and an unknown number of people have been saved, a source of courage and hope. We want to build a society that draws near to suicidal people, sincerely listening to their anguished cries, courageously looking into their hearts and sympathizing with their pain and suffering. This is the responsibility of each of us.
To the families left behind
61. The suicide of a family member or friend is painful for those who are left behind. The suicide of a parent or child or that of a close friend at work or school is an especially big shock. The majority of people wonder, “Was it my fault?” “Was it something I said or did that caused it?” “Why couldn’t I see it coming?” “If I had only done such-and-such.” They blame themselves in their helplessness. The closer the relationship, the harder it is to free oneself from such doubts.
We understand this and recommend that people place their concerns in the hands of God who knows all. Life does not end in this world, and we are connected to God’s world. This is our faith. After our journey through this world, all of us are liberated from earthly pains and burdens and are embraced in God’s eternal life.
62. God is just, but also merciful. We wonder about people whose life in this world has ended. “How does God judge them?” “How does God see it?” The answer is a mystery that transcends human understanding. We should leave judgement to God who knows all. When we consider the complicated reality of our world and human weakness, we believe that God’s mercy is richly poured out upon those who have committed suicide.
Sadly, the Church’s position that “suicide is a mortal sin against God who is the Lord of life” has been cold, judgmental and discriminatory. We admit that and repent.
Therefore, we appeal to each and every member of the Church to offer funeral Masses and prayers for the deceased who need God’s mercy and forgiveness and for the bereaved who need comfort and encouragement.
63. For those who have been bereft of a loved one through suicide we recommend prayer more than anything else. We understand the feelings of those who torture themselves in anguish over thoughts of the past, but remaining trapped in those thoughts leads nowhere. Prayer rescues hearts shut up in darkness and opens the way to life. It is a conversation with God that leads to a conversation with the deceased. Conversation with God comforts us with the conviction that human life does not end in this world. Moreover, to converse with the deceased in the light of God lets us look calmly at the truth about the deceased and ourselves, and crosses the gap between the next life and this to open a new world of relationship. Where there is a prayer there is peace and tranquility. In prayer hope is born.
64. In the American state of Oregon, the Netherlands and elsewhere laws approving euthanasia have been enacted. In Japan, though things are not this clear-cut, there have been several cases of euthanasia and there are groups here that advocate it.33 So long as freedom of choice is misinterpreted to mean that we can do with our lives as we please and if we are ruled by standards of efficiency and utility even in regard to human life, then in the near future even in Japan euthanasia will “catch up” with those places.
We are gladdened on the other hand to see that the hospice movement’s philosophy of providing care “so that one may live until death as comfortably as possible by one’s own will and choice” has spread throughout Japan.34 Doctors who work in hospices say that in the past euthanasia was chosen in many cases of terminal illness when pain management and care were not well handled. On the other hand, they say, patients who receive sufficient care in a hospice are able to suppress the pain and meet death. We sincerely hope to see hospices and hospice care, which have their origins in Christian tradition and thought, spread throughout Japan. We must work to ensure that everyone receives care that enables them to die with true human dignity.
The meaning of death
65. For modern people, death has become something far away. It is hated, excluded from daily life and seems to have been hidden away. But as it is often said, death is a part of life. From the moment we receive life, we journey step by step toward death. To ask “How should I die?” is linked to asking “How should I live?” “Why is a human able to keep living, knowing death is inevitable?”
We are convinced that when we think about death we must begin by answering this sort of fundamental question. Thinking about euthanasia is not merely a question of about how one dies.
In Hori Tatsuo’s novel Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Has Risen) the hero joins his fiancee in a sanatorium as she meets death and through death he gradually learns to really see things, replacing his everyday view of life with a new set of values. The writer describes seeing through death for the first time with the words, “Such a beautiful sky! If this were not such a cold, windy day we couldn’t see it, could we?” As in this novel, the living learn much from the dying, and develop a new consciousness of one’s own life and death.
Viewing the meaning of death this way, we think that for someone to recklessly choose euthanasia is to not give proper respect to human life.
Death with dignity
66. We think that euthanasia and dying with dignity are two different things.
Meeting death with dignity is different from murder through euthanasia. Rejecting excessive treatment while providing as much pain relief as is necessary for patients with no likelihood of recovery35 must not be confused with euthanasia.36 In other words, it is allowable to stop excessive medical treatment and administer sufficient pain killers even if doing so hastens death.37 Stopping medical treatment that merely prolongs life and giving appropriate pain relief is not done for the sake of letting the patient die, nor in order to kill the patient, but out of respect for the dignity of a living being.38
Using this distinction as a base, direct action intended to cause death, intentional euthanasia, is “a serious violation of divine law”39 and cannot be accepted.40
D. Capital Punishment
Abolition of the death penalty and Japan
67. Human beings cannot live alone; they need the help of others. This is a fact we have already stated and which cannot be denied. With the cooperation and support of one another we can fulfill our lives. Sadly, though, it happens that we sinful human beings are led by our selfish desires to betray the expectations of others, harming those who would help us and others, depriving them of life, disrupting society and forcing upon many people an indelible anxiety and fear.
Throughout history and in various kinds of society, it has clearly been considered natural to inflict the death penalty upon people who give priority to their desires and have ignored the rights of others, deprived them of life, and greatly disturbed social order and harmony. Even today, the death penalty is accepted in many countries. In many developed countries, however, the death penalty has been abolished.
The only developed nations in which the death penalty endures are the United States (where it has been abolished in some states) and Japan.41 A recent opinion poll shows that about 80% of Japanese accept the death penalty, perhaps influenced by a serious of particularly atrocious crimes.42
Is “A death deserves a death” right?
68. There are various reasons for people’s approving the death penalty. The argument that “a death deserves a death” is one of them. Another is anger and the desire for revenge on the part of the family and friends of a murder victim. There is also an opinion that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Further, there are those who maintain that the death penalty protects society from having dangerous people at large.
We do not object to a criminal’s being punished for a crime and having to make restitution. For a person who has committed a crime to receive an appropriate judgment of punishment and compensation in a fair court is natural. A criminal cannot escape responsibility for a crime. However, in a society based on a constitutional system the reasons given for approving of the death penalty are losing their persuasive power.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1989 adopted a treaty calling for the abolition of the death penalty. (Japan voted against the treaty and has still not ratified it.) Contrary to the idea that the death penalty continues to act as a deterrent to crime, there are many reports that show that the death penalty does not deter crime.43 We think we should respect these reports. In addition, some people think that when we consider the feelings of the bereaved, the death penalty is unavoidable. However, we doubt that the death of the assailant heals their pain.44 We think that another way must be thought of if the healing of the victims’ hearts is the real aim. As for the argument that the death penalty prevents further crimes by the criminal, we want to emphasize the fact that today the facilities for incarcerating criminals are run in such a way as to make escape very difficult, and if an inmate does manage to escape, it is nearly impossible to live as a fugitive in a society run by law.
In a world where countries are governed by law, and in light of the dignity of every human life, we maintain that the rationale for the death penalty is disappearing.45
In cases of serious crimes society does not solve anything by executing the guilty party. We must think more deeply about the human rights of the victims and their families.
Life belongs to God
69. As we have already pointed out, life belongs to God. The Bible says, “Vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy32:35). The power of life and death is in God’s hands. Do we not usurp God’s authority when in the name of the state we deprive someone of life even for the best and most just of reasons?
We should pay attention to the scene in Genesis of God’s words upon banishing Cain for the murder of his brother: “The Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who came upon him would kill him” (Genesis 4:15). In these words we can see a denial of the death penalty. The mark of Cain is a call to him to reflect upon his crime. No matter how terrible their crimes, God’s love gives everyone the possibility to live a whole life. By opening the way to life, the way to repentance is opened.
“Forgive one another” – the way to full growth
70. We want to point out that making a decisive judgment upon someone through the death penalty blocks the way to full growth as human beings. As followers of Christ who said, “forgive seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22), we think that our maturity and completion as human beings are based not only on respect for basic human rights and duties but also in the gratuitous love and service found in the forgiveness of sinners. In forgiving what is hard to forgive, we show the true glory of humanity.
This is the road Christ walked when as he faced his crucifixion he ordered his disciples to give up the sword and later died praying for the pardon of those who nailed him to the cross. The attraction of Christ that draws and questions the hearts of people is not in revenge, but in his choice to give his life for the sake of forgiveness.
In a fortunate historical process many countries, especially in Europe, are following the path of abolition of capital punishment. Recently, whenever there is an opportunity, Pope John Paul II has called for the abolition of the death penalty.47 We believe that a nation truly matures when society forgives the criminal and accompanies him on the road to repentance.
E. The Life Sciences
An affirmation of scientific progress
71. Rapid progress in science and medical technology has opened new possibilities for the birth of human life as well as its death. We can now manipulate life as we wish, giving birth to life by using extracted sperm and ova, using genetic manipulation, cloning, performing organ transplants and improving treatment at the end of life. Just a few decades ago such things were unthought of. It is not at all our intention here to attack such progress in science and medical technology.
Respect for honest research
72. Human intelligence is a precious gift from God. The universe created by God still contains many mysteries and an order that are hidden from humankind. They are deep and limitless. With heartfelt respect we highly value all efforts in honest pursuit of the truth behind nature. To discover, understand and use it for humanity’s happiness is no violation of the Creator’s authority. God made humankind in the divine image to be the protector of the order and harmony of creation. Science is one way to fulfill that vocation.
For the sake of human happiness
73. As the Catholic Church approached the new century, Pope John Paul II apologized to the world for the errors of the Church in the past. We unite our hearts with him in this. We sincerely repent of those words and deeds such as the suppression of Galileo that disregarded the progress of the natural sciences. Searching out the laws that move the universe, respecting that order and then putting that knowledge to work for human happiness and development is not only permitted to humankind, it is a responsibility given us by God.
How can we fulfill that responsibility?
74. The problem is how to fulfill that responsibility, how to use science. Ethics, morality, our view of life – in short, how we live – are all called into question by science.
The results of science and medical technology are at times like the fruit in the garden provided for Adam and Eve. Such progress seems like a charm that truly promises to bring us happiness, but if we reach out for it blindly, we may find ourselves like Adam and Eve, exiled from paradise. No matter what attractions it may hold, when it is used without reference to values scientific progress also carries the possibility of death and destruction for humankind.
The two faces of the new technology
75. The discovery and use of nuclear energy is a prime example of this ambiguity. It is claimed that in the 20th century physics has taken the lead in the sciences. The climax of that has been the development of nuclear energy. It has provided a totally new source of energy for humanity, but as we can see in the destruction of human life in a moment in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the disaster at Chernobyl and the life-threatening criticality accident at Tokaimura, it also has the potential to pass huge problems on to future generations. To use it effectively, we need the wisdom to know our limits and exercise the greatest care. In order to avoid tragedy, we must develop safe alternative means of producing energy.
Respecting the mystery
76. As we enter the 21st century, we see projections for the same sort of advances in the life sciences, a field that touches upon the prerogatives of God the creator. There is a danger that we will fall into the illusion that we can manipulate life as we please, as if we were God. This increasing research in the life sciences must take into account reason, ethics and religious values when making judgements about its results.
We want to look at several specific fruits of this research and technological progress, showing how they should be evaluated from the viewpoint of basic human values.
F. Brain Death and Organ Transplants
The diagnosis of death
77. Death comes for us all without exception. We who live are born, grow and reach old age through a process that, biologically speaking, leads to death. This is the fate of every living thing. Whether we be rich or poor, low or high, death comes equally to us all.
Moreover, death accompanies each of us as the shadow side of life itself. There is no one – even new-born, or however young or vigorous – who can claim to have nothing to do with death. As we see in situations like sudden disasters, traffic accidents or violent crimes, none of us can know when, where or how we must meet death. Death sits in wait, taking aim at the slightest crack in our life.
In the past, people understood death as the cessation of breath. The Japanese word for death (shi) originally comes from a phrase (shiinu) written with the characters “breath leaves.” Until the recent advances in medical science, that was people’s basic view of death. They checked to see if someone was breathing, made a diagnosis of death and prepared the funeral.
Nowadays, however, because of the advances in medical science the diagnosis of death is left to doctors. Family and friends, as well as the government, respect the diagnosis of doctors and accept a verdict of death in terms of a doctor’s declaration. That verdict has been based upon three symptoms: respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and dilation of the pupils. These bases for diagnosing death have been accepted without question.
Organ transplants and brain death
78. However, as medical technology has advanced, in certain special cases a different basis for diagnosing death has appeared. “Brain death” is being looked to as a basis for making a diagnosis of death. The suggestion has been made that even when the heart continues to function with the aid of medical equipment, if the patient is in a persistent coma with brain stem paralysis and no electrical activity in the brain, then that person should be considered legally dead. European and American society were quicker than Japan to accept brain death as a standard for determining death, but interest among Japanese has increased in connection with organ transplants.
Even if the brain is dead, other organs continue to survive. The success rate in organ transplants is high when live organs are used. Therefore, in 1999 a law governing organ transplants was passed that recognizes brain death as a basis for a diagnosis of death in the case of people who have made a written commitment to be organ donors.
Respect for the dead
79. Even so, many people have difficulty accepting brain death as definitive. When the heart is beating, blood is flowing to other organs and the patients’s body feels warm to the touch, people focus on the fact that the organs are alive, even when a diagnosis of brain death has been given. There have even been reports of such cases of brain death in which doctors have been able to deliver a child.47
Even when medical specialists give a diagnosis of brain death, it is natural that the close family and friends surrounding the patient cannot simply accept that verdict. So long as the patient’s body feels warm and so long as the heart sustains a pulse, ties of affection remain and even when there is no response, the family and friends attempt to communicate as if the patient were alive.
For that reason, we strongly recommend that though a medical expert’s diagnosis of brain death be accepted as final, we also affirm that nothing may be taken away from the respect and solicitude the survivors’ ties to the deceased deserve. Further, it is absolutely necessary that each person make an early opportunity to discuss with family his or her willingness or unwillingness to be an organ donor.
Organ donation is an act of love
80. While we respect those who cannot simply accept a diagnosis of brain death as final, since organ transplant technology not only restores health to those who had lost hope and gives them new possibilities, we recognize and value it as “good news” presented to us by modern science.48
There are, indeed, people in Japan who say that those who take organs from a third party in order to restore their health and lengthen their life are merely clinging to life. This is not the position of the Catholic Church. It is a work of love when to the fullest extent possible we do all we can to offer encouragement and cooperation in supporting the one life each of us has been given by God. In fact, for more than 40 years the Catholic Church has recognized organ donation as a work of charity when its development and progress meet the following conditions: (1) the free-will offering by the donor; (2) confirmation of death; (3) consideration for the bereaved; (4) respect for the remains; (5) no buying or selling of corpses; (6) fairness in determining who will receive organs.49
Recent media reports on organ transplants use the English word “donor” to describe those who offer their organs. The etymology of this word associates it with “gift-giving.” It contains the sense that one is giving another something that is precious to oneself. Offering one’s organs for transplant to someone in need is indeed a precious gift of a part of the life we have received from God. The Catholic Church has consistently affirmed this as a work of charity.
Life is in God’s hands
81. While we freely recommend organ donation as a work of charity, when we look honestly at Japanese society today, we must also admit to some hesitation. It comes from society’s tendency to think about life and death lightly, not looking squarely at the meaning of death for human life. A view of life that gives highest priority to extending life in this world might easily go along with the logic of our consumer society and turn organ donation into a commercial transaction. Our life and death have a mysterious value that is not confined to the value given it by this world. The sign of that is the new life given through the cross and resurrection of Christ.
We wish to remind all those involved in organ transplants of a view of humanity that says life on the merely biological level does not have ultimate value for the human being, but is directed toward eternal life. Life is given by God and is directed toward communion with the eternal God. Death is nothing more than a passage from life in this world to eternal life. Life and death are both in the hands of God, led by God. Therefore, even if an organ transplant has given me a longer life, I should not view it as something I have purchased for myself at high cost. Rather, I should gratefully accept a transplant as the generosity of the donor and a gift from God and hear in them God’s call to live more dedicated to eternal life.
82. When we think about the human embryo, that is, the early condition of pregnancy beginning with the fertilized egg, we must confirm the next point as a fundamental premise. The question arises of when one thinks human life begins. We want to take the considered position that rather than attempting to define when life begins, we declare our position that life must be protected from its very beginning.50
Holding to this understanding, we must think about recent progress in human embryonic research and the technology of cloning that comes from it.
83. A “clone” is a cell or creature that shares the same heredity as another. The world received a big shock in 1997 when Dolly, a sheep cloned by transplanting a cell nucleus into an egg, was born and gave rise to the question of human cloning. The early heated ethical arguments eventually calmed as the majority of researchers complained that delicate matters of judgment that should be considered on a case-by-case basis were being dealt with in the realm of general public opinion. Two points are at the center of the dispute. The first concerns two kinds of cloning: “reproductive cloning” for the sake of reproduction and “non-reproductive cloning” for purposes other than reproduction. The second point of controversy concerns how to ethically and legally deal with the cloned embryo. The Church teaches the following:
1. It opposes reproductive cloning because human beings exist as ends and may not be treated as means. Human beings have rights that are not programmable through heredity and each human being has the right to be recognized as a hereditarily unique individual.
2. The use of non-reproductive cloning (for example, for the sake of making structures or organs) requires delicate judgements of each technology. Standards for handling human embryos are the basic problem. When the intention is to produce the birth of an individual by other than normal means we cannot avoid the problem of when the life of the new individual begins. Since the embryo is already a human being, it may not be used for research.
84. Pope John Paul II has said that the results of research in genetic manipulation must be used for the benefit of humanity, for curing disease and improving the food supply. At the same time he condemns any use of live human embryos for experimentation, saying that rational values and respect for humanity are damaged thereby.51
In response to the 1997 UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, the French Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter, “Development in Genetics and Human Dignity.” They said that though gene therapy is used to save patients, we do not know the full results of it. It is desirable that this research continue with full respect given to the subjects of these experiments without going too far into reproductive cloning, the introduction of germ cells or embryonic cells into adult cells. They further said that out of consideration for future generations we should refrain from all research involving such genetic manipulation.52
Gene therapy is being used at present in the treatment of diseases in which specific genes do not function properly and in cases of acquired diseases for which there is no other therapy. In the former cases, positive results have been reported. However, in the latter cases such as cancer and AIDS, research has only just begun. Therefore, no cures have been established yet and there have even been cases where research on human gene therapy has been stopped.53 While we have great hopes for this technology in the future, we must carefully monitor its development.
H. The Environment
85. God created the world and declared it good, giving it order and harmony with the hope that nature and humankind would coexist in abundance. However, modernization and industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries have led to the subjugation of nature by humanity, disappointing that hope. In their untiring pursuit of convenience and comfort, the peoples of the developed nations, driven by self-centered egoism and commercialism, have in a short time destroyed the earth’s environment.
The earth was born 4.6 million years ago. At the beginning of the 15th century, the human population of the planet was approximately one billion. By the beginning of the 20th century it was some 1.6 billion. As we enter the 21st century, the world population is some 6.1 billion and is expected to exceed 10 billion by mid-century. Predicting the future is difficult, but in the 21st century three things seem certain: population growth, increased energy consumption and deepening environmental problems.
If we keep on like this…
86. As early as 1962 the American biologist Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring pointed out the problem of environmental pollution.
“It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh. … The apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.”54
This prophecy of a “silent spring” was made more than 40 years ago.
In 1972, the Club of Rome published its report, The Limits of Growth, warning of overpopulation, economic expansion, resource depletion, food shortages, and environmental pollution. The report warned that under present conditions the exhaustion of resources and environmental pollution caused by population growth would impose limits on human development.
Today these prophecies leave a heavy weight on our hearts. Once lost, it is impossible to return nature’s pristine state. Between 1975 and 2000, some 40,000 different kinds of creatures were driven to extinction each year. Restoring an extinct species is, to all intents and purposes, impossible.
In the latter half of the 20th century, mechanization and the growth of the automotive society in developed countries led to mass production, large-scale consumption, large-scale disposal, and large-scale discharge of industrial wastes as individual engaged in extravagantly conspicuous consumption. This has resulted in the over-production of carbon dioxide (CO2) which is raising the earth’s temperature. In addition, chemical pollutants such as dioxin and environmental endocrine disruptors are threatening not only humanity, but all life on earth.
The facts of environmental destruction
87. Especially serious among the world’s environmental problems are global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion and environmental destruction in developing countries.
The consumption of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal produces “greenhouse gases” such as CO2 that raise the temperature of the planet. It is projected that during the 21st century the average temperature will rise 2o C. It is assumed that this will result in a rise of about 50cm in the sea level. This rise in sea levels will change rainfall amounts and weather patterns and have a big influence on plant and animal life. Abnormal weather conditions will produce famine and environmental refugees.
Sulfuric oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx) discharged by factories, cars etc. undergo chemical changes in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric acid and nitric acid that then falls to the earth as acid rain. The death of fish in Northern European lakes and rivers was observed in the 1950’s and today more than half of Germany’s forests have been harmed by acid rain. Crops have been damaged in China, and acid rain has been observed as well in America, Canada and Japan. Pollutants have been observed to ride air currents for as much as 2,000km, so it is feared that the effects of acid rain can be worldwide.
Ozone in the lower level of the stratosphere is destroyed by chlorofluorocarbons and other such gases. This allows an increase in the amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation that reaches the planet’s surface. The fear is that this will cause health problems like cancer, interfere with photosynthesis in plants and hinder the growth of plankton.
Industrial pollution is a serious problem in developing countries. While that is their responsibility, it is also the responsibility of the developed countries that build factories in those places.
The problem of pollution arose in Japan in the 1960’s. Situations of air pollution in Yokkaichi and Kawasaki, and water pollution in Minamata due to industrial drainage provoked various countermeasures that have improved the situation. However, problems of air pollution, industrial drainage and heavy metal pollution are appearing in the developing countries.
This is not a case of people in the developed nations criticizing development in other places. It is important, though, that we share our experience by transferring technology, personnel and funds to assist developing nations.
Moreover, the overlogging of tropical hardwoods, the depletion of seafood resources due to marine pollution, the disposal of harmful wastes in the sea and desertification all present serious challenges to the existence of every creature on earth. In particular, it is said that more than half of earth’s species live in the tropical forests, but that by 2020 between 50,000 and 1,500,000 of them are expected to be extinct.
What God expects
88. Both nature and humanity have been exquisitely created by God’s hands. Humans, animals and plants cooperate with each other and are linked to each other through a great interwoven ecosystem. It is a mysterious link. The present generation must not be allowed to use up the world’s resources and by its egoism and stupidity destroy living beings created by God. Human beings must take a new look at our relation to the environment and make a new start.
Each of us must correct our pride and comprehend the God-given balance of nature. We must recognize what it is that sustains us and know our limits. We need nature in order to live, to eat and to love.
In 1990, Pope John Paul II, saying that God expects humanity to care for the earth, affirmed “that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”55
89. Nowadays the life style of people in developed countries is being called into question. In light of that, industries in our country should reconsider their mass production, large-scale consumption and rampant waste, and emphasize energy saving, resource saving, recycling and low waste production in the development of new products. We want them to grapple with the development of technologies to deal with all aspects of industry from manufacturing processes through disposal.
We, too, should stop such wasteful practices as excessive air conditioning and excessive packaging. When we buy a product, we should ask ourselves if it is really necessary, if it is made from recycled materials and how much electrical power it consumes. Each one of us should do what we can to reduce the burden on the environment. The activities of NGOs (non-government organizations) that work for the environment are increasingly important.
God cares even for the flowers of the field, dressing each with beauty and loving it. To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope. When we become aware of the abundant richness of other creatures’ existence, our eyes are opened to an intuitive sense of God’s own existence. The human task is not to destroy the environment, but to cooperate with God in creating it. It is important that we continue to hope as we correct problems and engage in a calm dialogue in search of solutions.
A starting point
90. This marks the first time we bishops of Japan have prepared a message not only for Catholics, but for all of Japanese society. Those who read it may find points that dissatisfy them and about which they have complaints. “I wanted this matter handled too.” “The bishops’ understanding of the facts is shallow.” “They don’t understand our viewpoint and situation.” “The bishops should have made the position and doctrine of the Catholic Church more clear.” In fact, we often heard such comments as we worked on this message.
We knew from the start that there were other and perhaps more crucial topics to deal with. However, we decided that even with its imperfections we should send a message to the world as it enters a new century, a new millennium. We are convinced that our vocation as bishops requires us to issue a call for people to understand a human posture toward life based on the light of God.
In 1971, Pope Paul VI made the following declaration regarding social problems. “In the face of such widely varying situations, it is not our ambition or mission to utter a unified message or offer a solution with universal validity. Christian communities must objectively analyze the situation proper to their own country to shed on it the light of the Gospel and draw principles of reflection, norms of judgement and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church. … With the help of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the bishops, and in dialogue with other Christians and men of good will, Christian communities must discern what are the changes to be promoted.”56
We have the same hope today that Pope Paul had then. We hope that those of you who read this message will not take it to be the final word of the Church on these matters. Rather, we hope you discuss it and use it as a starting point in building a society that values life.
91. As we prepared this message, we shared a common understanding of the people who live in modern Japanese society and the problems they encounter in life. Those problems are rooted in each individual’s way of life, values and view of humanity. Materialism, the pursuit of pleasure, the worldliness that thinks only the concerns of this world matter, and the individualistic pursuit only of one’s own comfort make for unhappiness and bring society to a dead end. From this point of view we wanted first of all to show the way of life which Christ taught and we hoped to inspire others with the life of Christ. That is why we opened this message with “The Message of Scripture.”
The source and support of this message is indeed Jesus Christ. In short, our faith is grounded in the life of Christ who loved God, loved people, was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead to save our lives from edge of danger and lead us to everlasting life. Christ looks after and suffers with those who are abused and suffer in our society. Following his example, we too look with deep affection upon those who suffer and hope that by our efforts our society will improve.
This message might not have spread sufficient light on solutions to the complex problems people face. We hope, however, that you will understand our desire to present Christ as truly “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We are convinced that even in the midst of suffering Christ who lived the loving will of God will lead humanity in the way of joy.
92. We sincerely hope that all who read this message, whether Catholic believers or not, will find light in it and by that light make responsible choices for the way they live. It is an undeniable fact of life that each of us must assume responsibility for his or her own life.
This message is different from other documents we have issued that stressed the teachings of the Church. We intentionally avoided categorical statements like, “The Church teaches that…” This is the reason we chose to speak in the form of a “message” to society. We hope that you will listen to our appeal, heed your conscience and take responsibility for how you live your life.
We ask our fellow Catholics to deepen their understanding of the ethics and teachings of the Church in the light of this message and to take responsibility for making decisions regarding their own lives. Furthermore, we ask all pastors to understand the spirit of this message and support and encourage believers in putting Church doctrine into practice.
With love rather than judgment
93. One more thing we shared in preparing this message was the desire to show God’s loving mercy. We recognize that in the past Church teaching was understood inflexibly and those who were unable to follow it and their families were judged and discriminated against. While appealing to high ideals, this time we tried to bring God’s kindness into our message, taking on the heart of Christ who said, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13) and, “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 8:14)
We do not intend to condone sin, rather we want to be a good friend to those who in the here and now complexities of life have lost the light and are discouraged. We sincerely want to help them find renewal in God’s blessings and start anew.
Love and forgiveness are light and power. True humanity shines forth when, embraced by love, it experiences comforting forgiveness in the midst of the darkness of sin. Love and forgiveness are indispensable for a sinner to find salvation.
We will be happy if this message helps build a society in which those who are discouraged by their weakness and those who live in lonely darkness find warm understanding, comfort and encouragement.
A new century
94. Finally, as we enter a new century, we declare that the Catholic Church gives a clear “No!” to all evil that undermines or neglects human life and we express our commitment to actively join the struggle to overcome each person’s difficult circumstances, solve our problems and build a society of truth, justice and love.
May God’s light and blessings be poured out upon us all.