Bioethics is a cultural discourse on the legitimate treatment of the human body; it is necessitated by the practical coincidence of two seemingly contradictory notions concerning this subject. In short, it is the existential body that posits the norm for treating the physical body - and both perspectives, while legitimized in the act, need to be continually balanced and negotiated. In spite of this constitutive double-entendre, a much more straightforward, materialist notion of the body seems to occupy most of the discursive terrain in Japanese bioethics. A minority of professional bioethicists in Japan employs a more comprehensive understanding of the problem. Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology has been particularly popular with bioethicists who attempt to grasp both the scientific and the existential side of such problems as brain death, the persistent vegetative state, or human cloning and human embryo research. However, theoretical elaboration so far did not translate into discursive success. When it comes to questions of life and death, contemporary Japan is largely dominated by the positivistic (materialistic) view of the human body.