Japan legalizes organ transplants
But controversy lingers
October 16, 1997
Web posted at: 4:25 p.m. EDT (2025 GMT)
From Tokyo Bureau Chief John Lewis
TOKYO (CNN) -- After years of religious and cultural
roadblocks, Japan legalized organ transplants Thursday and
joined the rest of the industrialized world in recognizing
But cultural attitudes, a lack of donors and a scarcity of
medical experience almost ensures that major organ
transplants will remain off limits throughout much of the
predominately Shinto and Buddhist nation.
"Buddha told us that nobody should be allowed to take out any
parts of a human body, even if the person has given
permission," said Hidetomo Kanaoka, a Buddhist monk at
Myoyaku Temple near Tokyo.
Under the old law, doctors could not transplant organs from
patients as long as their hearts and lungs were still
functioning. Death came at the moment when the heart stopped
beating -- at which point it is too late to use major organs
Japan's first organ transplant was 29 years ago, when surgeon
Juro Wada conducted a heart transplant using the heart of a
brain-dead donor. The doctor was investigated on suspicion of
murder, because the patient died less than three months after
the operation. Prosecutors declined to indict him.
Proponents of the new law say it does not go far enough.
Written into the legislation are measures they had fought
- Transplants can only be performed with the donor's written permission, and the family must concur;
- Families can veto the doctor's diagnosis of a brain-dead patient;
- Children under age 6 are excluded from receiving donor organs;
"I will still have to send some patients abroad for
transplants as I have been doing up to now," said Hidetoshi
Matsunami, Japan's leading transplant surgeon. "I do not feel
assured at all with this new legislation."