Upper House mulls transplant law

by Alex Martin

The Upper House began deliberations Friday on two amendments to the organ transplant law.

One amendment, Plan A, would scrap the age limit, opening the door for children to donate organs. It cleared the Lower House on June 18.

A counterproposal, which was submitted by opposition party lawmakers Tuesday, calls for keeping the current age limit of 15 in place while spending a year to create a new government panel to examine the matter.

Tsutomu Tomioka, a Liberal Democratic Party who supports Plan A, said it was important to revise the law, and pointed to the low number of organ donations from brain-dead people as proof that the current law is ineffective.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that it is the Diet’s failure that is robbing people of their right to receive donations,” he said.

There have only been 81 reported cases of organs being donated from brain-dead patients since the current law was enacted 12 years ago.

Upper House legislator Ryuhei Kawada, an independent backing the counterproposal, said detailed deliberations are necessary from all possible angles before moving on.

“This could potentially create a major social problem unless we respond properly to the issues surrounding organ donations,” Kawada said.

Brain death is a sensitive issue in Japan, where the definition of death has traditionally been tied to “sanchokoshi” (the three indicators of death): cessation of the heart and lungs and dilation of the pupils.

The current law recognizes brain death only in cases where people have already declared an intention to donate organs and if their family members agree. It also stipulates that one must be 15 or older to donate.

Plan A would toss out this age limit and allow organs to be harvested from patients as long as they never opposed organ donation while they were alive, and if family members give their consent. The counterproposal wants a research set up at the Cabinet Office to weigh the criteria for determining brain death in kids.