Brain death splits Lower House

Although debate at the Lower House Health and Welfare Committee has nearly come to an end, committee legislators are still divided over whether brain death should be legally recognized as death.

During the committee session April 15, Taro Nakayama called it “political responsibility” to pass a bill that stipulates brain death as legal death, allowing for the removal of organs for donation from those declared brain dead.

Nakayama, a Liberal Democratic Party legislator as well as a medical doctor, is a representative from a group of 77 nonpartisan lawmakers who submitted the bill to the Diet in March. “We believe that a social consensus has been reached over the issue after more than five years since an ad hoc advisory body to the government concluded in January 1992 that brain death constitutes legal death,” Nakayama said.

Seiichi Kaneta, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Japan, countered, however, saying the public has been divided over the issue and it would be inappropriate to enact such a law. Kaneta and 27 other lawmakers from the DPJ, Shinshinto and the Social Democratic Party of Japan submitted to the Diet earlier this month a bill proposing that brain-dead people be considered good-will donors for organ transplants even though their condition does not constitute legal death. The bill was presented as a counter-proposal to a previously submitted bill on the same issue.

Both bills propose that the removal of organs from brain-dead patients be allowed if written consent for the procedure has been given by the donor in advance. The bills are expected to be put to a vote April 22 at a plenary session of the Lower House.