In an unusual show of mercy, Japanese courts have ruled that a mother who killed her own son under the most tragic of circumstances will not have to serve a prison sentence.
The case began with the attempted suicide of a 40-year-old Tokyo man, married with 2 children of middle school age.
The man attempted to kill himself on the roof of his workplace, but botched his hanging and was reduced to a vegetable.
He left a note for his loved ones urging them to move on:
“I was tricked by a strange woman.”
“Please forget about me.”
“Lastly, I really, really do love you. Thank you for everything up to now.”
Doctors stabilised him on life support, but considered that “the chances of him ever regaining consciousness are basically nil.”
Japan does not recognise euthanasia and prohibits refusal of treatment to patients in a “persistent vegetative state,” so he would likely have to remain a vegetable for the rest of his natural life, or until his unlikely awakening.
However, Japanese health insurance does not apply to suicides unless mental illness is involved.
As a result of this, the family were presented with estimated receipts totaling some $35,000 for the 10 days of treatment rendered so far, with the future cost of keeping the man alive on a ventilator estimated at $1,000-$3,500 for each day he continued to live.
Lawyers were consulted, but could offer no relief – the family would have to pay until the day he finally passed on, whenever that might be.
Faced with this incredible financial burden the family despaired.
His wife begged doctors to stop the ruinous treatment, both because of the cost and his own inferred wishes: “Please stop actively treating him. If it’s impossible I’ll take him of the ventilator myself,” but doctors steadfastly refused to consider ceasing treatment as brain death had not occurred.
Soon after, his 67-year-old mother left the wife a note one morning: “Hold on, Kyoko. I’m his mother, I bore him into this world, so it’s my responsibility.” She took a kitchen knife with her to the hospital.
Placing a picture of her son taken on holiday 20 years ago on his breast, she stabbed him 4 times in the chest, killing him.
His mother later spoke of her sorrow:
“The sense of loss I have at my son’s death, the fact that I killed him, it overwhelms me. I’ll be atoning for the rest of my life.”
“There was no way I could let his wife take him off the ventilator. As his mother, I’m responsible. I’ve led a long and happy life, so I resolved that my life is over, and I would do it.”
She herself was no stranger to the plight of the aged or disabled, having for 20 years volunteered at a care facility.
In the courtroom, the man’s wife wept as she saw the mother’s now gaunt frame in the dock: “If she hadn’t done it, I would have.”
She begged the court for mercy: “For a mother who loved her son so to have killed him, there can be no greater anguish. Please return her to her husband’s side – he would have wanted that.”
“What would you have done if you were in the same position?” asked the defence in its closing statements to a panel of 6 lay judges and 3 professional judges.
Judges found her guilty of murder, but mercifully sentenced her to only 3 years (the prosecution sought 5, the usual minimum for murder) – they also suspended the sentence for 5 years, meaning she will go free without serving any time in prison, assuming she can refrain from killing any more of her offspring for 5 years.