Japan badly lags world in organ transplants

CHICAGO TRIBUNE | Yukiko Takanashi and Sakae Sasaki, (c) 2016, The Japan News/Yomiuri

Progress on organ transplants has been alarmingly slow in Japan, which stands out among developed countries in terms of its low number of organ donors.

Indeed, some patients have no choice but to go overseas for treatment because Japan still fails to provide enough organs. This shortage comes amid a growing international consensus that patients should obtain donor organs inside their own country.

To make matters worse, there has been a series of problems at an organization that mediates organ transplants. With next year marking the 20th anniversary of the enforcement of the Organ Transplant Law, a national debate should be held to improve this situation.

"There is a serious contradiction regarding organ transplants in Japan," physician Hiromichi Taneichi said during public lectures in Tokyo, Aomori and elsewhere. In 2012, Japan's first organ transplant from a brain-dead donor aged under 6 was conducted at Toyama University Hospital. Taneichi was one of the physicians who worked on the donor boy.

Taneichi also once escorted a girl who traveled to the United States to receive a heart transplant. He was present when the heart was donated and when it was received, which helped shape his opinions on the subject.

When children, who are small, need an organ transplant, the donor must be a child as well. In July 2010, the revised Organ Transplant Law came into effect, enabling organ donations after the brain death of children younger than 15. However, there have been only 12 cases of organ donation by children under 15 since then. According to the Japanese Society for Heart Transplantation, 29 Japanese children under 18 traveled abroad for a transplant between 2010 and June 2016. That is more than twice the number that received a donor organ in Japan.

Traveling to receive an organ places great stress on the body. For critically ill patients, it can be a desperate gamble. Another problem is that some patients are publicly criticized when they attempt to raise the hundreds of millions of yen necessary to cover the costs of such a trip. Continue reading

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