BY MASAHIKO ISHIKAWA THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Despite an easing of rules on organ donations, Japanese still have strong reservations about such procedures involving brain-dead family members even if the individuals had never expressed opposition, an Asahi Shimbun survey shows.
The survey found that 58 percent of Japanese are not willing to agree to the organs of loved ones being harvested under such circumstances, while 33 percent are amenable.
A revision to the Law on Organ Transplantation, which went into effect in July, allows families to give consent to transplants of organs of brain-dead family members as long as the prospective donors had not stated their opposition to the procedure.
Before the revision, written consent left by the donor was required to remove and donate organs of a brain-dead patient.
In the survey, The Asahi Shimbun sent questionnaires to 3,000 eligible voters in their 20s through 80s and up across the nation to seek their views on life and death, and received valid responses from 77 percent. The survey was conducted from late September through late October.
Despite the revision, many people appear to be unsure about giving the go-ahead for an organ donation without a donor's consent if the donor is their relative.
After being informed of the gist of the revision in the questionnaire, 48 percent said knowing the donor's intention is necessary, while 45 percent replied that a family's consent should suffice.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said that if they become brain dead, they do not mind having their organs transplanted, while 35 percent said they do.
The ratio of respondents agreeing to donation in the case of brain death was higher among younger people.
More than 70 percent of respondents in their 20s expressed their readiness to donate organs.
Sixty percent of respondents said they want to make their position on organ donations clear while they are still alive, as opposed to 34 percent who said the opposite.
According to the survey, those who expressed a willingness to make their wishes known were more inclined to agree to donating their organs.
Seventy-two percent of respondents who said they want to state their position during their lifetime agreed to organ donations.
In contrast, among those who expressed reluctance to take a position on the issue, 60 percent did not agree with making a donation.
Asked if they recognize brain death as legal death, 61 percent endorsed it, compared with 32 percent who replied that legal death should be limited to when a person's heart stops.
The survey showed that most people hope that even if they are terminally ill, they will die with as little pain and suffering as possible.
Eighty-one percent shunned the idea of being put on life support, which the survey described as a procedure designed merely to prolong the life of a gravely ill patient who has no prospect of getting better.
Only 12 percent said they would seek the treatment.
Fifty-one percent replied that they don't want their family members to receive life support, whereas 33 percent said otherwise.
In instances when it is not clear if a family member hopes to have such a treatment, 72 percent replied that his or her family can refuse it in place of the patient, compared with 22 percent who disagreed.
As for battling serious illness such as advanced cancer, 53 percent said they would not want to continue receiving treatment if it caused further pain, while 35 percent replied that they would embrace continued therapy despite suffering.
One in three Japanese dies of cancer, making it the leading cause of death.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents wanted to be informed if they are suffering from terminal cancer.
Of respondents in their 20s through 50s, about 85 percent said they would want to know if they are terminally ill.
Overall, 18 percent said they would not want to be told.
The percentage rose to 32 percent among respondents aged 70 or older.
But informing a family member that he or she has terminal cancer appears to be a different matter.
Forty percent said they would tell their relatives if that was the case, while 48 percent said they would not.
Asked to choose between being told how much time they have left so they can prepare for death and dying all of a sudden, 49 percent chose the former and 44 percent the latter.
As for a funeral service, 58 percent said they would want one to be held for them, while 36 percent said there was no need.