• Kyodo News

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A health ministry panel examining the transplantation of organs from brain-dead people has not convened since March 2009, leaving 32 cases unexamined, it was learned Saturday.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said they have been unable to devote time to the panel as they were busy ahead of the coming into force of the revised Organ Transplant Law on Saturday. No meetings of the panel are scheduled.

However, critics said that transparency in the transplantation of organs from brain-dead people will not be secured as long as the panel remains suspended.

The panel, consisting of more than 10 experts in medicine, law and mental health, checks if transplants of organs from brain-dead people are carried out in accordance with the law by examining documents and interviewing those involved.

There have been 87 legally designated transplants — although in one case no transfer took place — involving organs from brain-dead people in Japan, of which 55 cases have already been examined by the panel, according to the ministry.

Among the examined cases, the panel found that Kanazawa University Hospital lost electroencephalographic examination records used for diagnosing brain death.

The panel used to convene once every six months, but its members have not met since March last year, leaving the remaining 32 cases — of which two have been left unexamined for over three years.

“It is a serious problem that the panel has not been convened for more than a year, as the panel is designed to assure transparency of organ transplant from brain-dead people, which is usually conducted behind closed doors,” said Yoshihiko Komatsu, professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology and an expert on organ transplantation.

“With the revised organ transplant law, children could also be organ donors, (so) the panel’s role to examine cases has become more important,” he said.

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