Japan Organ Donation Coordinator Asked to Conduct Survey; Health Ministry Seeks Report in July on Declined Organs

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Tokyo

The health ministry has asked the agency that serves as national mediator of organ donations to conduct a fact-finding survey following revelations of organs not being accepted by transplant hospitals due to manpower shortages and other reasons.

The Japan Organ Transplant Network (JOT) was urged to report within July about how and why organs from brain-dead donors were declined. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry intends to devise measures based on the survey’s results.

According to the ministry’s transplant medicine office, the survey will cover cases involving six kinds of organs — the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, small intestine and kidneys — donated through JOT since 2023. A record high of 132 organs were donated in 2023, and this year 50 organs had been donated as of Tuesday.

At a meeting of the House of Councillors’ Committee on Health, Welfare and Labor on May 30, the ministry said it would ascertain the situation through JOT, which keeps records of all donation cases. No system exists for JOT to report to the ministry on how many donations were declined and why.

Up until now, related academic societies had conducted individual surveys on the matter, but they covered only a few medical institutions — such as the University of Tokyo Hospital, Kyoto University Hospital and Tohoku University Hospital — as well as heart transplant facilities. The ministry-led survey is expected to cover all cases comprehensively, helping provide an overall picture of how donations were declined.

“We’re still discussing whether to report the survey results to the Diet and have not yet decided how to make the results public,” an official in the office said.

The issue was revealed in a Yomiuri Shimbun report released on Jan. 1 that spurred the Japan Society for Transplantation to conduct an urgent survey. The survey found that 62 donated organs — 36 lungs, 16 livers and 10 hearts — were declined in 2023 at the University of Tokyo Hospital, Kyoto University Hospital and Tohoku University Hospital.

The Japanese Society for Heart Transplantation conducted its own survey and found that a total of 16 heart donations were declined at the University of Tokyo Hospital and the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, in 2023.

The Japanese Society for Clinical Renal Transplantation and the Japanese Pancreas and Islet Transplant Association plan to each launch a survey.

Related societies and experts have called for an increase in the number of transplant facilities and allowing patients on waiting lists to register with two facilities where they can undergo a transplant.