The Aug. 14 Media Mix article, “Media coverage often ‘the last push’ to suicide,” contains the following paragraph:
“Japan’s suicide rate is considered high, officially more than 30,000 a year. In many Western countries, deaths in which the cause is not apparent are often judged to be suicides, whereas in Japan only those deaths that are obviously suicides are judged to be so, and since the causes of some 140,000 deaths a year in Japan are categorized as unknown, the number of suicides could be appreciably higher. (The reason so many causes of death are classified as ‘unknown’ is that there are only 137 physicians in Japan authorized to conduct autopsies.)”
The above claim is based on a popular but incorrect translation of Japanese statistical categories coupled with a misreading of World Health Organization guidelines.
There is a detailed discussion of this in the Japanese language Wikipedia article on suicide.
Having more physicians who could conduct autopsies would probably LOWER the suicide rate by enabling the discovery of more murders that had been disguised as suicides.
Furthermore, an autopsy cannot determine anything other than the physical cause of death. An autopsy cannot tell you, for example, whether someone drove off a cliff because he or she was a bad driver or because he wished to kill himself.
A bit more research before writing is in order, I think.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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