Ten years have passed since the Organ Transplantation Law was enacted, allowing organ transplants from brain-dead people. So far there have been only 56 of these organ transplants. The latest was carried out on June 14 and 15, using the heart, pancreas and kidneys from a woman in her 50s. The small number of transplants belies the popular acceptance indicated by a Cabinet Office poll in which 40 percent of those surveyed said they would like to donate their organs if they were declared brain dead. Lawmakers are considering revising the law to increase the number of such transplants. Broad-based public debate should come first so that society can reach a consensus.
Under the law at present, brain death is not generally accepted as official death. Only people who have agreed to donate their organs if they become brain dead are officially declared deceased upon the onset of brain death. In addition, they must have expressed their willingness to donate their organs in writing. And people younger than 15 years old are not allowed to donate their organs if they are declared brain dead.
Lawmakers have put forward two revision bills. One would accept brain death as official death for all people. Organs from brain-dead people could be transplanted if the deceased had not declared their opposition to organ donation and if their families agreed to the donation. Still, many Japanese are likely to resist the idea of accepting brain death as official death.
The other bill would allow people at least 12 years old to donate their organs upon the onset of brain death. But much younger children with serious heart diseases would not be saved with this revision. Given the current Diet situation and schedule, discussions to revise the law appear unlikely to advance.
Kidney transplants from cadavers are now possible; only the consent from the families of the deceased is necessary. But even kidney transplants are not common in Japan. Some people pay to receive kidneys from people living abroad. It would be helpful at this stage to enlighten people about organ donation cards and seals as well as kidney transplants from cadavers.
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