Govt Must Fix Flaws in Organ Transplant System; Patients Fending Off Death Deserve Better Help

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

The fairness in connecting organ donors and recipients has been called into question by the recent survey of three major organ transplant hospitals.

Waiting-list priority for organ transplants is based on rigorous standards. But the survey showed that organs from brain-dead donors often ended up being transplanted into lower-priority patients when the major hospitals — where higher-priority patients were waiting — declined to perform operations, often due to inadequacies in the major hospital’s circumstances.

A patient on a waiting list said: “I’m waiting while fighting with a fear of death. If a chance is suddenly snatched away right before my eyes, I just won’t be able to take it.”

Operational guidelines of the Organ Transplantation Law stipulate detailed conditions for medical institutions that determine brain death and harvest organs. However, hospitals that perform transplants are chosen by relevant associations.

Under the circumstances, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has insisted that a transplant system “must be put in order autonomously by the medical community.” The ministry is cautious about taking governmental measures.

However, the Japan Society for Transplantation is not cohesive as a group. It is a gathering of experts on various organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.

Some executives in the society appeared to dismiss the survey result as someone else’s problem, with remarks such as, “It’s a matter concerning certain hospitals.”

The group apparently has no plan to investigate whether similar cases happened in hospitals other than the three hospitals surveyed, nor to engage in debate to come up with solutions.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s lawmaker group on organ transplants will submit as early as next month a proposal to strengthen transplant systems in hospitals.

Overall, the number of brain-death organ donations is on the rise. If the government fails to address the issue, the public would lose trust in transplant medicine. The government must have a sense of crisis and show a roadmap to improving transplant systems.