Cut state funding to terminal patients so they “can die quickly”: Aso

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso caused a stir Monday in talks on social security reforms when he said the medical system should be changed so that the many terminal patients now using “government money” for expensive treatment “can quickly pass away.”

“Such patients can keep living even if they wish to die,” Aso reportedly said during a meeting of experts, only to later scramble to retract his gaffe.

“I cannot sleep well when I think of (myself receiving expensive treatments) by using government money,” the gaffe-prone Aso reportedly said, apparently referring to massive government expenditures for the public health insurance system.

In an apparent bid to correct his remark, Aso told reporters later in the day that the remark was his “personal view” and not meant as a generalization about the medical system.

Reading news reports about Aso’s remarks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga immediately called him to confirm what he said. Aso apologized for “causing misunderstanding” and “will withdraw his remarks,” Suga said.

“I discussed my private views on life, but in some sense, it was not appropriate to make those remarks in public,” Aso said in a written statement he later released through the Finance Ministry.

“So I withdraw the remarks and asked (the conference organizer) to omit them from the meeting’s minutes,” Aso said.

Suga rushed to caution Aso over the remarks, apparently recalling the verbal missteps that plagued the 2006-2007 first Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe’s first Cabinet took heavy political damage when some of his ministers made verbal blunders, including then-health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa, who compared women to “machines that give birth to babies.”

Fumio Kyuma stepped down as defense minister in 2007 after outraging survivors of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki by stating the use of the devastating weapon was “just inevitable.”

Learning the lessons of that Cabinet, Abe has cautioned his latest team to watch what they say, particularly if they are inclined to express their views on history.