Event Report: Joint Symposium by University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy (UTCP) L2 and Research Center for Ars Vivendi "Knowledge / Technology of Birth"

published: 2015-06-23

On February 24, 2015 (Tue.), a joint symposium under the theme “Knowledge / Technology of Birth” organized by UTCP-L2 and the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University was held at the Komaba Campus, the University of Tokyo.

Firstly, Haruka Tsutsui (University of Tokyo UTCP) stated the objectives of the symposium – to look at the present formation of knowledge/technology of birth from the viewpoint of philosophy, ethics, and technography and deepen our understanding of the endeavors and views surrounding life and survival.

Next, Yu Miyahara (Bunkyo University/Rikkyo University), made a presentation entitled “Formation of experience in infertility treatment – structure of experience as seen in modality of “expectations””. Yu Miyahara pointed out that “expectations/hopes” are important factors supporting women “patients” of infertility treatment, and, at the same time, are the very reasons that drive them against the wall and into despair, and that the same feeling of “expectation/hope” telling them that it will be different next time helps them to overcome the despair and make yet another try. Miyahara says that through this repetition of raised expectations and the following frustration, infertility treatment results in further strengthening the norm that having a baby is the supreme purpose of life, while the agony experienced during the treatment results in a loss by the society of diverse ways to construct identity and perceive happiness.

Maiko Watanabe (Integrated Human Sciences Program for Cultural Diversity, The University of Tokyo) made a presentation entitled “Prenatal testing – how we see the unborn child”. The presenter made a point that all one can see from prenatal testing/diagnosis is information on the fetus that can be made into images, numbers, and codes, thus leaving us with an understanding emphasizing only some aspects of the unborn child while some are left out of the picture. At the same time, as the presenter pointed out, this adds up to a system of control of the ways unborn child is perceived, and in the clash of different perceptions of the fetus by pregnant women and medical science, the one promoted by medical science is stronger as it is already standardized through a system of medical classifications. Based on the discussion so far, the presenter then raised the issue of what paradigm an expectant mother has at her disposal to create narratives of the fetus of her own.

Next, Keiko Toshimitsu (Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University) made a presentation entitled “Contemporary history of the dispute involving introduction of preimplantation genetic diagnosis in Japan”. Toshimitsu made a point that preimplantation genetic diagnosis involves a unique ethical problem, as the object of diagnosis here is not embryo/fetus anymore but a number of fertilized eggs, and that here there are two selections done simultaneously – one for the purpose of eliminating disability, and one to choose the best embryo to transfer. The presenter pointed out that the facts that preimplantation genetic diagnosis has been included in “infertility treatment” and also that preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) is already being performed on pregnant women mean yet another step towards elimination of opportunities for diverse lives, for possibilities for people to be born different.

Finally, Prof. Yoko Matsubara (Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, member of the management board of the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University) commented on the Symposium at large bringing it to a common denominator “impairment”, eliciting more concise responses from the presenters. In response to the presentations and Prof. Matsubara's comment, a lively discussion involving about 30 participants of the symposium ensued regarding such problems as how to come to grips with the anguish experienced by those with infertility, how to perceive the conceiving body itself, as well as how to deal with diversity and positivity.

(The original report in Japanese is prepared by Dr. Yumiko Yamamoto, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Human Relations, Tokai Gakuin University / Visiting Researcher of the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University. It is translated into English by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University.)