Bill asserts organ-doning rights of brain-dead people

In an effort to prevent brain death from being legally recognized as death, a nonpartisan group of 28 lawmakers on Mar. 31 submitted to the Diet a bill stating that brain-dead people could be voluntary donors for organ transplants even though their condition does not constitute legal death.

The bill was presented as a counter proposal to a bill submitted last month by another nonpartisan group of 77 lawmakers. That bill states that brain death constitutes death and that those declared brain-dead could serve as donors for organ transplants.

Both bills say that removing organs from brain-dead donors for transplants will be allowed if the donors have given written consent beforehand. “However, the bill submitted earlier is likely to lead doctors to be tempted to take out organs without prior consent of the donors, despite the provision,” said Yukio Edano, a Lower House member of the Democratic Party of Japan and one of the lawmakers who sponsored the new bill.

Once brain-dead people are pronounced “dead” by doctors, their rights could easily be violated, said Edano, a lawyer. Under current medical practice in Japan, where patients do not enjoy an equal relationship with doctors, patients’ rights could be disregarded, said Takashi Yamamoto, a Lower House member of Shinshinto. The newly submitted bill was drafted to protect the rights of possible donors, Edano said.

The bill submitted earlier, which was intended to pave the way for resuming organ transplants, is expected to be put to vote before the Lower House Health and Welfare Committee this month. Organ transplants from brain-dead donors have been suspended in Japan since 1968, when the nation’s first and only known heart transplant gave rise to suspicions that the donor, who had been proclaimed brain-dead by a surgeon, might not have been dead at the time.