VIRTUOUS INDECISIVENESS: Structural Moral Ambivalence and the Tentative Implementation of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing in Japan

Tsipy Ivry, Maki Ogawa, Jun Murotsuki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anthropological engagement with moralities and ethics assumes that people evaluate themselves and others according to their notions of good and bad; yet little is known about how people evaluate the quality of their deliberations. Such evaluations of the seriousness of ethical deliberations prevail in Japan’s genetic counseling for pregnant couples considering NIPT, a maternal blood test early in pregnancy that does not endanger the pregnancy but might lead to termination dilemmas. These deliberations are based on the idea that the ambivalence over whether to provide or undergo a potentially selective test is virtuous. This article examines how Japanese policymakers, medical professionals, genetic counselors, and pregnant couples make decisions within social settings that valorize indecisiveness. Ambivalence emerges as the cognitive skill of seeing complexity clearly. How people and their ethnographers evaluate the quality of ethical deliberations is essential to contemplate if we are to understand how people seek to lead a moral life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-197
Number of pages27
JournalCultural Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The first author is grateful to the Israel Science Foundation for generously funding this research (grant no.1854/14). Special thanks go to Rika Takaki-Eini for transcribing the interviews and for her invaluable help throughout the research process. Most of all, the first author is grateful to the pregnant women and their partners, the genetic counselors, and the ob-gyns who agreed to share their thoughts about the sensitive issues at hand. All three authors are indebted to the three anonymous reviewers and to the Cultural Anthropology editorial team for their insightful comments and suggestions that helped sharpen our arguments. Thanks are owed to Nikki Littman and Petra Dreiser for their sensitive English editing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023,Cultural Anthropology. All Rights Reserved.


  • ambivalence
  • ethicalization
  • genetic counseling
  • Japan
  • local moralities and ethics
  • prenatal diagnosis
  • reproductive decisions
  • virtue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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