Organ transplants after Brain Death: The situation in Japan


Editor, Saori Tanaka

哲楽第3号Since I started to edit Enjoyable Philosophy both in Japanese and English, I’ve become aware of my poor English ability, and that made me enter the English conversation school in Shibuya, Tokyo from this April. The other day, I had a chance to talk about the issue of organ transplants after brain death, as the class’s theme was medical issues in Japan. The lecturer, who is from England, kindly listened attentively to my story, and added some grammatical corrections to some of my English expressions. At the class, I thought of one thing: “Is the information about the law revision for organ transplant and the way to express people’s will under the law really reaching foreign people living in Japan?” Before the law was revised in 2009, a person’s organs could not be taken without him or her having signed a document beforehand. After 2009, however, the person’s family has been able to make this decision if the person’s will is not clear, and also the age limit for organ donation, where one must be over 15 years old, was removed from law.When I told that story to the British lecturer, he nodded his head saying, “They changed the law to opt-out so that the organs could easily be taken from people ignorant of the law, didn’t they?” (Opt-out means withdraw or leave. In relation to receiving advertisements in your email inbox from specific companies for instance, while you keep receiving them without any agreement, sometimes you have a chance to ‘opt-out’, by following a link and entering your email address, which means that you will no longer receive the adverts. Under this ‘opt-out’ system, a provider of any kind of service assumes that the receivers are happy to keep the service until they say otherwise.)

The lecturer is a graduate school student in Japan, and has wide knowledge of Finance and International Relations. Although he understood the main points precisely from my poor English explanations, it seemed that he didn’t know about the changes to the law. I’m sure that even most Japanese people do not know about this, but if they are Japanese, they will have more of a chance to realize it though acquiring or renewing their drivers’ licenses or insurance cards, where they are required to write their will.

I gave the lecturer some copies of Enjoyable Philosophy, and the next week, I asked him how he felt about the magazine. He enjoyed reading the first volume that was bilingual, but he needed more time to read the third volume that was only in Japanese. The third volume was about organ transplant after brain death, but when we talked about the editorial policy in the editorial meeting, we decided not to include the English translations because we thought that this is about the Japanese legal system and precise Japanese information was required. I really regretted my decision on that day.

You may already know the news about the Japanese parents who were in Singapore for business and decided to donate their 1-year-old daughter’s organ after she suffered brain death from an accident at a pool. After a while, the news story about the parents who made this hard decision was published on Asahi Shinbun, but I do not see how they could have given true informed consent in a foreign country where the language and culture are different from Japan.

The story about the Japanese parents and my conversation with the English lecturer seem connected. The English lecturer said “They changed the law to opt-out so that the organs could easily be taken from people ignorant of the law, didn’t they?” The “people ignorant of the law” here sounds like it would include all foreign people living in a foreign country.

In the WHO’s guidelines, they proposes to improve legislation in each country to avoid the illegal trade in human organs. The Japanese revision of the law to opt-out seems to be a part of trying to meet this international requirement, but I think that an information service for prospective donors or their families who are living in a foreign country might be needed from now. If we limit our concern to Japan, this will include foreigners living in Japan and Japanese living abroad.

As our magazine is a small magazine, we have a limited chance to contribute to this debate but I would like to help keep foreigners living in Japan informed about the current situation here regarding the medical law system etc. As a part of that, I am going to start blogging from today both in Japanese and English. I hope I won’t quit easily.

この投稿文は次の言語で読めます: Japanese