The U.S. has long had an established right to refuse life-extending medical care through living wills which refuse certain kinds of treatment. This is a novel idea in Japan.
Living wills are easily accepted in the U.S. when preparing an estate plan or even going into the hospital. A living will allows us to direct doctors not to give medical care that would artificially prolong our lives when we have no hope of recovering. These documents have legal effect and doctors are not liable for following their directives.
Japanese attitudes have traditionally been different than ours. There it is normal for doctors to extend life as long as possible. There is no formal, legal way to order doctors not to.
However, under pressure from a struggling economy and an aging population, the Japanese attitude is beginning to change according to Japan Today in “‘Living wills’ spur debate on right to die with dignity in Japan.”
People in Japan are starting to create their own living wills, but doctors do not have to follow them. In fact many doctors fear getting sued by upset family members if they do follow the living wills. This is sparking a national debate over the issue.
Those in favor of them say they allow people to die with dignity while the opposition fears allowing the living wills could be the first step towards euthanasia.
It will be interesting to see how the debate ends up in Japan.
An estate planning attorney can guide you through the process of creating a living will as your estate plan is created.