Is Japan still in the medical Stone Age? A look at American depictions of the medical profession might make you think so. Last Tuesday, NHK had a bunch of celebrities sitting around and rapturously discussing the American hospital soap opera “ER” and its mature take on the physician-patient dynamic. This weekend sees the opening of the new Sean Penn movie, “21 Grams,” about a mathematician with a bad ticker who receives a replacement from a guy who is run over by an ex-con. The movie gives the impression that heart transplants are as common as Starbucks openings.

Actually, about 3,000 organ transplants took place last year in the United States, which is a smaller number than it sounds considering that 2.4 million Americans died in the same year. But it’s a huge number compared to Japan, where only 30 organ-transplant operations have taken place since they were legalized in 1997.

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