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Japan: 10 Years Since Organ Transplant Law?s Effective Date

(Nov. 2, 2007) Under Japan's Law Concerning Organ Transplant (Law No.104 of 1997), the donation of organs is permitted from a dead or brain-dead donor. The criteria for establishing brain death are set by the Health Ministry Ordinance. Electroencephalography (brain wave) test results must be examined. There are other, additional strict regulations. Transplants are allowed in cases where the donor expressed in writing prior to death his/her intent to agree to donate his/her organs and agree to be submitted to an authorized brain death declaration and where his/her family members did not object to the donation. The Law also prohibits transplants from children who are less than 15 years old.

Only 61 donors have been recognized as brain dead in the ten years since the Law became effective. There have been many Japanese patients, especially infants and children, who have gone abroad to get organ transplants. Two bills have been submitted to the Diet to amend the Law. However, it is not likely that either bill will be passed. There are deep-rooted suspicions that medical practitioners would give preference to organ transplant over saving moribund patients. (Zoki ishokuho 10 nen [10 years of Organ Transplant Law], YOMIURI ONLINE, Oct. 16, 2007, on file with author.)