A quarter of a million bedbound elderly people are kept alive in Japan, often for years, by a feeding tube surgically inserted into their stomach. A few months ago, my 96-year-old grandmother became one of them.

Feeding tubes are so common in Japan that my family wasn't initially consulted about the procedure, which is effectively irreversible. When my mother walked into Grandma's room the next morning and saw a tube, she dropped to her knees by the bedside and stayed there for hours, crying.

"I am sorry. I didn't mean to do this to you," my mom repeated over and over.