Top surgeon backs brain-dead transplants

Full disclosure of information, fairness and the best efforts of those involved will be crucial when the nation resumes organ transplants from brain-dead donors, a liver transplant expert told a Diet hearing June 13.

“Now it is time for us to take the first step,” Satoru Todo, one of the world’s best-known liver transplant surgeons, told the House of Councilors’ special committee on brain death and organ transplants. “We should do that as the responsibility of our generation. We should not hand over the responsibility to younger generations.”

Todo, a professor of surgery at Hokkaido University, appeared before the committee as one of six speakers at a public hearing on the issue. To best resume the medical treatment, which has not been performed in Japan for about three decades, legislation over brain death and organ transplants is necessary, he said.

Organ transplants from brain-dead donors have not been performed in Japan since the nation’s first and only heart transplant in 1968 at Sapporo Medical College. Todo, who has performed more than 2,000 liver transplants at Pittsburgh University Medical Center in the U.S. since 1984, returned to Japan in January “after making up my mind that I would not hesitate, even if it meant going to jail, to help those who are agonizing in Japan waiting to receive the medical treatment.” Todo is also well-known for transplanting the livers of baboons into two patients in the U.S.

However, Kinko Nakatani, a professor emeritus of criminal law at Keio University who also spoke at the hearing, said a legal framework would not be necessary to perform the operation. Jiro Nudeshima, a senior researcher at Mitsubishi Kasei Institute of Life Sciences, said medical professionals should conduct the procedure without hoping for legal support. “It is what has been done in other countries,” he said.