Organ transplants from brain-dead people, for decades regarded by Japanese police as murder, became on Oct. 16 legitimate acts of surgery as the landmark Organ Transplants Law went into effect.The implementation ends a nearly three-decade taboo on the procedure, which has virtually disappeared since a Sapporo surgeon who performed a heart transplant was investigated by police and criticized by the public when the recipient died less than three months later.The law, passed by the Diet on June 17, took effect Oct. 16, along with specific government-set regulations for transplant surgery.The Organ Transplants Law sidesteps the legal definition of human death and instead states that brain death signifies human death only when a donor has been examined and confirmed to be brain dead by two or more doctors before the patient’s organs are removed.Under the law, transplants of hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, pancreas, small intestines and eyeballs are permitted and those aged 15 or older are allowed to donate their organs.Although the word death appears more than 4,500 times in various laws, there isn’t one that offers an exact definition of death. Police have taken the traditional view that death is when the heart stops.Doctors at the state-run National Cardiovascular Disease Center in Osaka Prefecture said Oct. 15 they want to implement organ transplants from brain-dead donors as soon as possible. “If an organ to suit a patient is donated, we’d like to conduct an operation speedily,” center chief Takenori Yamaguchi told a news conference. “It has been a long way,” he said. “Now that a law has been officially worked out, we hope to do as much as we can.”The center’s vice chief, Soichiro Kitamura, confessed during the press conference: “My hands may shake if I see a heart beating when I cut open a donor’s chest to remove it.” The center in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, is among five facilities authorized by a panel of 11 medical societies in July to conduct heart and liver transplants from brain-dead donors once the law is in effect.Heart transplants will be permitted at Tokyo Women’s Medical College and by a joint team from Osaka University and the National Cardiovascular Disease Center. Japan’s only heart transplant from a brain-dead donor to this point was in 1968. Performed by Juro Wada at Sapporo Medical College, it sparked a major controversy when the 18-year-old recipient died 83 days later.Wada faced allegations of manslaughter but prosecutors did not indict him due to a lack of evidence.
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