Bishop THOMAS and Orthodox Scholars Attend Bioethics Conference in Japan


by Reader Herman Engelhardt and Brian Partridge

Bp. THOMAS with Metropolitan DANIEL of Japan

A major challenge confronting Orthodox Christians across the world is the impact of the dominant secular culture on how physicians act and patients are treated. This influence is reflected in the use of abortion and the increasing acceptance of physician-assisted suicide across the world. This secular culture and its bioethics touch the lives of patients, physicians, and nurses everywhere. We no longer live in a normatively Christian context.

To address these issues in Japan, a country that is only one percent Christian, a group of Orthodox Christians led by the Right Rev. Bishop THOMAS spent December 5th-15th of 2009 meeting with Japanese scholars and attending academic meetings concerning issues of bioethics. The group consisted of Father Iulian Anitei from Holy Protection of the Theotokos Romanian Orthodox Mission in Houston, Texas; Reader Herman Engelhardt from St. George Antiochian Church in Houston, Texas and professor at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine; and Brian Partridge from All Saints of America Antiochian Church in Homer, Alaska and director at The Center for the Study of Culture, Ethics and the Environment. All members of the group serve in various capacities on the Editorial Advisory Board of the journal Christian Bioethics, now entering its fifteenth year of publication. Christian Bioethics is published by Oxford University Press.

L. to r.: Fr. Iulian Anitei, Bp. THOMAS, Dr. Herman Engelhardt

The meetings began with preliminary discussions held the evening of Sunday, December 7th, with a delegation of Japanese academics led by Professor Rihito Kimura, President of Keisen University (a Protestant educational institution) and President of the Japan Association for Bioethics. The goal was to brief the group concerning the current state of affairs in Japan and to have a preliminary exchange of ideas.

This was followed on Monday, December 8th, by a full day of discussions at Waseda Law School, Waseda University, regarding the status of the family, family values, and the authority of parents in making medical decisions for their minor children. The discussions focused on how the Convention on the Rights of the Child undermines traditional family authority. The discussions also explored current law, public policy, and bioethical concerns in Japan and the United States. Approximately 350 professors and students were present.

On Wednesday, December 10, the group participated in a major symposium on bioethics. The Right Rev. Bishop THOMAS presented a paper, “Care at the End of Life: What Orthodoxy has to Teach”, as part of the International Symposium of Bioethics held at Sophia University, a Roman Catholic university in Tokyo.

Also participating in this international symposium were the Rev. Iulian Anitei, who delivered a paper entitled “Culture Wars and End-of-life Decision-Making: Why Traditional Christians Look So Strange”, and Herman Engelhardt, who presented a paper, “Limiting Medical Treatment: Christian Bioethical Reflections”. The discussions disclosed the deep cleft between traditional and post-traditional approaches to end-of-life decision-making. About 150 people, mostly academics and professionals, attended this symposium. The last of the series of meetings took place at Toyo-Eiwa University, Tokyo. These discussions focused on the problems associated with the pursuit of a global bioethics. As the conversations demonstrated, we are separated by deep moral disagreements that undermine the possibility of a global bioethics. The culture wars, conflicts between different moral visions, are international.

Their presence in Tokyo gave the group the opportunity on December 7th and December 14th to attend Liturgy at Holy Resurrection Cathedral (completed 1891), popularly known as the Nikolai-do, the temple of Nicholas, after the great evangelizer St. Nicholas of Japan (A.D. 1836-1912). There the group met His Eminence DANIEL, Archbishop of Tokyo and Metropolitan of all Japan. After Vespers on December 13th and after Liturgy on December 14th, the group was able to speak with local clergy and parish members. On Sunday, the 14th of December, his Grace Bishop THOMAS delivered a sermon and presented the Metropolitan with a standing subscription to Christian Bioethics. These interchanges with the Japanese showed the need to project Christian bioethics internationally.