, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 5-31

Tainted Blood and Vengeful Spirits: The Legacy of Japan’s Yakugai Eizu (AIDS) Trial

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Abstract

Medical anthropologists often point to the importance of “illness narratives” as emergent or incipient forms in which patients attempt to make sense of the moral dimensions of illness and suffering (Kleinman 1988; Mattingly 1998). In this article I draw upon published accounts, newspapers, and legal documents, supplemented by ethnographic interviews carried out from 1999 to 2001, to show how plaintiffs in the yakugai AIDS trials brought by HIV-infected hemophiliacs against the Japanese government and the pharmaceutical industries that sold them tainted blood products appropriated powerful cultural themes in producing narrative accounts of their suffering. These narratives resonate with themes of lost trust, filial piety, and the desire for a “good death.” In contrast, I show how the neat and tidy narrative that emerged in the course of the yakugai AIDS trial served to impose meaning upon the plaintiffs’ unruly experiences such that, when it was over, the Japanese public was convinced that the “AIDS problem” had been “solved.”