The Japanese Medical Act section 21 states that doctors must report unnatural deaths to the police, even though the term “unnatural death” is not defined by law. However, many doctors are reluctant to report potential therapeutic deaths (PTDs). The Japanese Society of Legal Medicine has submitted guidelines for unnatural death, including PTD. These define a PTD as an unexpected death, the cause of which is unknown, but which is potentially related to medical practice. Such deaths are “reportable” to the coroner in the UK. In this study, we addressed the question of whether physicians would report each of eight hypothetical PTDs. Although the clinical societies (the Japan Society of Internal Medicine and the Japan Surgical Society) declare that doctors must report deaths due to gross negligence, 60% of the participants said that they would not report gross negligence involving an overdose in cases where they had obtained informed consent or had provided an explanation after the death occurred. This can be accounted for by the mistaken belief on the part of the participants that obtaining informed consent exempts Japanese physicians from the duty of reporting PTDs. The attitude of Japanese physicians is caused by the death investigation system, which is designed to discover whether a crime has been committed rather than focusing on the cause of death. Accordingly, the Japanese Government has decided to commission a pilot study from an independent organisation in which medical specialists will investigate PTDs in order to prevent deaths occurring as a result of gross negligence.
- JSLM, Japanese Society of Legal Medicine
- PTD, potential therapeutic death
- coroner’s inquest
- informed consent
- medical malpractice
- unnatural death
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Competing interests: none declared
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