(LifeSiteNews) — A Yale University professor has provoked backlash over his suggestion that “mass suicide” of the elderly is the “only solution” to economic problems posed by Japan’s quickly aging population.
“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” Yale assistant professor of economics Yusuke Narita said during a late 2021 news discussion on Japan’s demographic problems, according to The New York Times.
“In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?” he added, referring the ritualistic suicide by disembowelment historically used by Samurai and other Japanese to restore honor for themselves or their families.
During the same discussion, other commentators proposed, on the contrary, that Japan’s “only option is to increase the number of children,” and that the country’s problem “is not that the elderly are alive and well,” but that it has to give them “generous pensions.”
The New York Times reported Sunday that Narita’s remarks went viral last month when several commentators reshared his controversial statements on social media. A posting of the original panel discussion by Japanese news outlet Abema has at least 2 million views.
It is not the first time Narita has openly, seriously considered euthanasia as a desirable practice in Japan. Last year, Narita described to students a scene from the horror movie “Midsommar,” in which two elderly people jump off a cliff in a ceremonial suicide.
“Whether that’s a good thing or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer,” Dr. Narita reportedly told the students. “So if you think that’s good, then maybe you can work hard toward creating a society like that.”
According to the Times, in one interview, Narita went so far as to predict that there will be a discussion about the possibility of making euthanasia “mandatory in the future.”
Narita has since attempted to backtrack his comments, claiming in response to emailed questions that the terms “mass suicide” and “mass seppuku” were “an abstract metaphor,” the Times reported.
“I should have been more careful about their potential negative connotations,” he added. “After some self-reflection, I stopped using the words last year.”
Others maintain the comments by the provocateur, who is much better known in Japan through his online presence than he is in the U.S., are still cause for alarm. Narita’s Twitter bio states, “Most of what they say you shouldn’t say is true.”
Columnist Masato Fujisaki argued in Newsweek Japan that Narita’s remarks “should not be easily taken as a ‘metaphor,’” and that the professor’s fans are people “who think that old people should just die already and social welfare should be cut.”
Journalist Masaki Kubota is concerned that Narita’s comments could have dangerous consequences and denounced them as “irresponsible.”
Kubota speculated that in response, young Japanese who worry about the economic burden of their aging society “might think, ‘Oh, my grandparents are the ones who are living longer, and we should just get rid of them.’”
Further confirming Narita’s radical pro-euthanasia stance are remarks he made during a panel hosted three years ago by Globis, a Japanese graduate business school. Dr. Narita reportedly told the audience that “if this can become a Japanese society where people like you all commit seppuku one after another, it wouldn’t be just a social security policy, but it would be the best ‘Cool Japan’ policy.” Cool Japan is a government program promoting the country’s cultural products.
Japan, which is overwhelmingly irreligious and pagan, historically has ample precedent for the practice of suicide, and not just by the ritual seppuku. During World War II, kamikaze pilots voluntarily flew to their death in sabotaging enemy ships; and “honor suicides” have historically been practiced not only by Samurai and soldiers but by ordinary Japanese civilians.
For decades, Japan has had the second highest suicide rate among the G7 nations, and the practice is still considered a major social problem in the nation.
Lending fuel to critics’ concerns over Narita’s comments is the perception that there is widespread tolerance of the practice of euthanasia in Japan. A 2010 survey by Asahi Shimbun indicated that 70 percent of Japanese respondents said they approved of anrakushi, a term that typically refers to euthanasia. The term, however, has been described as “ambiguous,” prompting questions as to whether the respondents fully understood what was being asked.
“Many of the people who answered did not understand the difference between the hastening of death through anrakushi and the ‘natural death’ of songenshi,” argued death studies and bioethics expert Andō Yasunori in an article published on Nippon.com.
Yasunori warned, “If euthanasia is legalized, there is a real danger of patients being pressured into choosing anrakushi out of deference to their families and society, a risk made even greater by the lack of laws laying out the rights of patients.”