South Korean Organ Donation Agency Head Comments on Transplant Situation in Japan; ROK Conducts 10 Times More Per Capita Transplants

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Samuel Lee, president of the Korea Organ Donation Agency

SEOUL — The head of the official organ donation agency in South Korea, which has a strong record of organ transplants, comments on recent revelation that such procedures in Japan were being limited by staff or bed shortages at hospitals and other factors.

“If the same problem arose in South Korea, it would be a major issue,” Samuel Lee, president of the Korea Organ Donation Agency (KODA) said in a interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun last month.

In South Korea, 10 times more brain-dead people per capita donate organs than in Japan.

The issue came to light following an investigative report by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 1 on the refusal of some hospitals to accept organs for transplant, spurring the Japan Society for Transplantation to carry out an emergency survey.

The society found 62 cases in which hospitals affiliated with three universities — the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and Tohoku University— refused to accept organs in 2023. The three hospitals are among the most experienced in transplants in Japan.

“Except in cases of organs in poor condition from a medical point of view, every medical institution [in South Korea] that performs organ transplants will accept almost all organs,” Lee said. “We are very proactive when it comes to transplants.”

In South Korea, a law was enacted to allow organ donations from brain-dead people in 2000. In 2011, it became mandatory for medical institutions to notify KODA of patients who are possibly brain dead.

Measures to support the system were implemented, such as promptly dispatching coordinators from KODA to the medical institutions upon notification, and counseling families on the procedure and paperwork involved. As a result, the number of organ donations increased.

According to the World Health Organization and other sources, the number of brain-dead donors per 1 million people in 2022 was 7.89 in South Korea, while it was just 0.74 in Japan.