Organ Mediation Incident: Devise Ways to Overcome Stagnation in Domestic Transplants

Charging high fees and having patients undergo opaque organ transplants abroad are actions that take advantage of the vulnerability of suffering patients. It is necessary to take urgent measures to prevent such cases from being repeated.

A trial is underway over an incident of organ transplant mediation overseas involving a nonprofit organization called the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association, with the NPO director accused of violating the Organ Transplant Law.

The law requires organizations and others that mediate organ transplants to obtain permission from the health, labor and welfare minister. But the NPO director allegedly mediated organ transplants in Belarus for Japanese patients without authorization from the minister.

In the trial, the director has pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution claims that the defendant was aware that the NPO’s actions were illegal.

The NPO is also suspected of being involved in organ trafficking in Kyrgyzstan. The hope is that the trial will bring to light the reality of the NPO’s activities.

Only a few organizations, such as the Japan Organ Transplant Network, which mediates organ transplants in Japan, have been authorized by the central government.

Organ transplants are supposed to be completed in Japan. Since overseas transplants are not envisaged in the law, this has led to the mediation of organ transplants overseas by disreputable organizations in some respects.

This case has given momentum to the need to strictly regulate organ transplant mediation, which has gone unchecked.

According to a survey by the health ministry, there are more than 500 patients nationwide who have received organ transplants overseas and then returned to Japan, and there are at least four intermediary organizations.

A specific legal system should be considered in which, for example, if an organization inevitably mediates organ transplants overseas, it is required to register with the central government, and is severely punished when it fails to do so.

It is also important for patients to be aware of the risks involved in contacting organizations of uncertain status via the internet and other means. It is hoped that they will avoid contacting these organizations on their own, but rather consult with the doctors who treat them.

Nevertheless, there is no end to Japanese patients who continue to look overseas because of the extremely low number of organ donors in Japan. Based on this, measures to improve the situation must also be promoted.

The health ministry is considering the introduction of a system in which hospitals would promptly share information with the Japan Organ Transplant Network when a patient is found to be potentially brain-dead.

Specialized coordinators would be involved from an early stage, and they would thoroughly explain the process to the families of brain-dead patients and respect their wishes to donate if they have the intention to do so.

It is vital to save as many patients as possible by making use of the goodwill of donors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 13, 2023)