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Open Access Research article

Present state of reproductive medicine in Japan – ethical issues with a focus on those seen in court cases

Mayumi Mayeda

Author Affiliations

Department of Biomedical Ethics, School of Health Science and Nursing, The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

BMC Medical Ethics 2006, 7:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-7-3

Published: 5 April 2006



Against a background of on the one hand, a declining demography and a conservative family register system that emphasizes the importance of the blood line, and on the other hand, an increase in the number of people undergoing fertility treatment, the absence of a legal regulatory framework concerning ART matters is likely to result in an increasing number of contradictory situations. It is against this background that the paper sets out to examine the judgements of court cases related to ART, with a particular focus on the legal determination of parental status, and to link these to aspects of the legal and socio-ethical environment within which the courts make their judgements.


The methods used were thorough investigation of all the court cases concerning ART in the public domain in Japan, including the arguments of the concerned parties and the judgements so far delivered. With the court cases as a central focal point, trends in Japan, including deliberations by government and academic societies, are reviewed, and the findings of surveys on the degree of understanding and attitudes among the people toward ART are summarized.


In terms of the judgements to date, the central criteria used by the courts in determining parental status were the act of parturition and the consent of the husband of the concerned couple. The government and academic societies have displayed a cautious attitude toward ART, but the findings of attitude surveys among the people at large show a generally positive attitude toward ART. Attitudes toward the overwhelming importance hitherto attached to the bloodline are also seen to be changing.


The main conclusion is that in the absence of a legal regulatory framework for ART, there is likely to be an increase in the contradictions between the use of outdated legal precedents and the technical development of ART. Since much of the specialist discussion necessary for the formulation of a legal framework has already been carried out, the speedy enactment of comprehensive and at the same time flexible legislation would be highly desirable, but further wide-ranging discussion involving the general public is likely to be needed first.