To answer the question what is bioethics, professor Rihito Kimura wrote a book and more than a hundred articles. "It is a huge subject," he said. "Many people think its focus is on medical issues, but it is much wider than that. It has ethical, legal and social implications too, in an environmental context. All of the components relate to life and death, and before life and after death."

Originally a professor of law, Kimura became interested in bioethics long before the word was coined. In setting up his courses in the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, he became an exponent of interdisciplinary studies. He prefers to describe his subject as "supra-interdisciplinary."

The son of a scientist who was also a Waseda graduate, Kimura as a law student became interested in comparative law in Southeast Asia. For four years in the 1960s, he served as professor of comparative law at Chulalongkorn University Bangkok. For two following years he served as professor of Asian studies at Saigon University. He tells a story of a Vietnamese student asking him what he ate. Kimura told him fish, rice and tea. The student replied, "Don't eat the fish or drink the water -- and perhaps you shouldn't eat the rice," and showed him pictures of deformed infants and sick people. They suffered, he said, from water and soil contamination after the use of Agent Orange. Japanese fish geneticists discovered that the dioxin in the chemical affected DNA structure of exposed fish. "Medical ethics are required of physicians," Kimura said. "But bioethics has a wider scope, encompassing the doctor, the patient, the ecology. It is an area of widening impact on everyone."