The bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law, which cleared the Upper House on July 13 and thus gained full Diet passage, is a rare example of bipartisan agreement. Known as Plan A, the new law has three significant features: It recognizes brain death as legal death, allows the harvesting of organs from brain-dead children under the age of 15, and gives certain priorities to families of brain-dead patients in deciding whether or not the patient’s organs will be donated.
All these points remain controversial, which makes the bipartisan effort seem even more striking, even if the motivation is still political. With the dissolution of the Diet looming, lawmakers felt some pressure to get the bill passed before the World Health Organization enacted guidelines that would prevent people from going overseas for transplants. These guidelines have been held up because WHO is still busy with the swine-flu crisis. WHO is mainly concerned about people from developed countries going to developing countries to buy organs, but Japan is way behind other developed countries in terms of the number of transplants it performs, owing to legal restrictions as well as cultural and administrative factors.