Hospital almost duped by illicit organ broker

CHIBA (Kyodo) A hospital in Chiba Prefecture with a track record of successful organ transplants considered committing itself to a kidney transplant brokered by a person suspected of illegally engaging in transplants in China, according to sources.

The National Hospital Organization Chiba-East Hospital discussed whether to accept the offer at a meeting of an in-house ethics committee in January — unaware the 49-year-old broker was behind the deal — before deciding not to give the go-ahead to the transplant, the sources said.

A doctor who was assigned to handle the deal said a man living in the Kanto region visited the hospital a few times beginning last November and offered to donate one of his kidneys for free.

The doctor also said the man then designated a foreign woman as the recipient of the kidney, quoting him as saying a nonprofit organization introduced her to him. The doctor brought the issue to the hospital’s ethics committee in late January without asking the man for further details.

But the committee rejected the plan, citing a lack of clear standards for picking organ recipients. The NPO, located in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, has a relative of the broker on its board of directors and provides information about overseas organ transplants on its Web site.

“I wanted to respect a donor’s goodwill — an attempt to help people suffering from illness,” the doctor said, adding he later advised the man not to involve himself with the NPO.

It is quite rare for medical institutions to discuss transplant deals between people who are not acquainted with each other, which many medical experts fear could be cases of organ-trafficking. The Japan Society for Transplantation says it had not received a report on any such case.

The organ transplant law prohibits transplants being arranged without government permission and the Japan Organ Transplant Network is the only organization certified as an intermediary.

The broker mentioned in the latest case admitted to his close relationship with the NPO and said recently the organization is being used to solicit patients who are willing to receive organs in China.

The organ transplant issue came to light in January, as the broker was found to have approached a doctor at Kanazawa University Hospital in Ishikawa Prefecture last November for cooperation in helping an inpatient there receive a transplant in China.

After making written inquiries to hospitals and other medical facilities nationwide following the Kanazawa case, the health ministry revealed in February that four medical institutions had been approached by individuals and organizations that appeared to be organ transplant brokers and urged institutions to report suspicious cases.

Japanese doctors generally regard organ transplants in China as unethical due to suspicions regarding organ trafficking and the use of organs from executed prisoners.