Thirty-one-year-old Taka Fujii has an unusual background. She was born in Kumamoto Prefecture and currently teaches bioethics at the Medical Department of Saga University. Taka Fujii, a licensed physician, has just completed her PhD in philosophy while continuing to work part-time as a physician.
In her 5th year as a medical student of Saga University, she was diagnosed with the incurable disease Myasthenia gravis. Although she had only one more year left before she could sit for the National Medical Practitioners Qualifying Examination, she considered quitting medical school.
The ratio of male to female students at the Medical Department of Saga University is fifty-fifty, which is considered rare even for Japan. With tears in their eyes, Taka Fujii’s girlfriends begged her to persevere for their sake. After taking one year off from her studies during which her condition improved, she managed to complete the training while continuing to receive treatment. Passing the Qualifying Examination with flying colours, Taka Fujii faced the question of what she wanted to do next. She decided to transfer to a university that had a philosophy department in order to study medical ethics because she wanted to be able to understand the positions of both the physician and the patient. Returning to her native prefecture, she joined the research lab of Prof. Takao Takahashi at the Graduate School of Letters of Kumamoto University.
Taka Fujii was stunned when Prof. Takahashi asked her, the newly minted physician, to work on the topic “Animal Ethics”. After all, she wanted to reflect on the ethical problems in the relationship between physicians and patients but there she was, being wheedled into doing something completely different. However, there was no going back and she had no choice but to do as she was told. She wrote her thesis while working part-time at the local health care centre vaccinating children and performing examinations to cover her university fees. As she was making several times more money than her classmates who usually worked part-time at cram schools, she was sometimes the object of sarcastic remarks. They were giving her cold stares, implying that even though she participated in research meetings trying to be just one of them, she was different, she was a doctor. Her supervisor Prof. Takahashi tried to encourage her, telling her to persevere because even if she did not succeed as a doctor, her efforts would still lead her somewhere.
Despite feeling alienated at times, Taka Fujii managed to find her way thanks to the teachings of Paul Taylor, one of the proponents of biocentrism. His work focuses mainly on trying to find solutions to ethical dilemmas related to the environment, but Taka Fujii thought that his ideas could be applied also in the field of bioethics. She wrote her thesis from the point of view of anthropocentric biocentrism. Only then was she able to comprehend the meaning of the research topic given to her by her supervisor.
“When we are trying to solve environmental or medical problems, even if we follow the principles of biocentrism which include animals and plants, in the end, man is the one who makes the decisions. Therefore, I had to add the word anthropocentric. When dolphins learn how to communicate with humans, I would like to think about those problems together with them, but until then…,“ said Taka Fujii laughing.
When I broached the subject of her self-determination in writing her paper, she answered with a bitter smile: “Oh, it was mercilessly criticized for being more of an essay than a thesis”. In this paper, she ambitiously tried to present the controversial practice of kidney transplants from sick donors as medically expedient. Such transplantations are currently not accepted by the medical establishment in Japan and I asked her if she wouldn’t lose her license. She said that in the worst case, they could make her quit for disagreeing with the official position of the Medical Department. “If it comes to that, I will start doing eye exams for contact lenses and write a book about ethics!” I admired the sheer determination of her reply.
Last spring, Taka Fujii started teaching at the Medical Department of her alma-mater. Every day she stands up courageously on the podium, but sometimes in her sleep she stops breathing and she sometimes thinks that she may not wake up the next morning. When students ask her personal opinion about a certain issue, she replies openly, although she is worried about showing extreme bias. At the end, she always tells them. “That’s what I think, but you have to think for yourselves!”
They say that mountain people have an excellent sense of direction and never get lost. Taka Fujii, born in Kumamoto Prefecture, home to Mount Aso, is no exception. On the day of the interview, under a clear blue sky, we went straight from Asakusa Bridge to Asakusa Temple where we found there just the right place to sit and talk in peace. On the stone seats, arranged in a circle around a gingko tree, there were elderly people, taking a break from their walk. When I started my recorder, into the earphones came Taka Fujii’s soothing voice blending with the rustling of the wind, and the sound of the feet of children who were playing nearby.
Taka Fujii sent a special message to high school students who may find themselves in the same circumstances as her. Don’t miss the podcast of the interview on our radio!
We parted with a promise: “Next time let’s meet on Mount Aso!”
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