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Date: 31 Oct 2003

Perspectives on advance directives in Japanese society: A population-based questionnaire survey



In Japan, discussion concerning advance directives (ADs) has been on the rise during the past decade. ADs are one method proposed to facilitate the process of communication among patients, families and health care providers regarding the plan of care of a patient who is no longer capable of communicating. In this paper, we report the results of the first in-depth survey on the general population concerning the preferences and use of ADs in Japan.


A self-administered questionnaire was sent via mail to a stratified random sampling of 560 residents listed in the residential registry of one district of Tokyo, Japan (n = 165,567). Association between correlating factors and specific preferences toward ADs was assessed using contingency table bivariate analysis and multivariate regression model to estimate independent contribution.


Of the 560 questionnaires sent out, a total of 425 participants took part in the survey yielding a response rate of 75.9 %. The results of the present study indicate that: 1) the most important components to be addressed are the specifics of medical treatment at the end of life stage and disclosure of diagnosis and prognosis; 2) the majority of participants found it suitable to express their directives by word to family and/or physician and not by written documentation; 3) there is no strong need for legal measures in setting up an AD; 4) it is permissible for family and physician to loosely interpret one's directives; 5) the most suitable proxy is considered to be a family member, relative, or spouse. Multivariate analysis found the following five factors as significantly associated with preferences: 1) awareness regarding living wills, 2) experience with the use of ADs, 3) preferences for end-of-life treatment, 4) preferences for information disclosure, and 5) intentions of creating a will.


Written ADs might be useful in the Japanese setting when the individual either wishes: 1) to not provide a lot of leeway to surrogates and/or caregivers, and/or 2) to ensure his or her directives in the cases of terminal illness, brain death, and pain treatment, as well as regarding information disclosure.