A controversial bill amending the Law on Organ Transplantation that defines brain death as the legal death of a person was passed into law Monday afternoon.
The bill was one of three bills to be voted on by House of Councillors members, and was passed by a majority of 138 to 82. Under the amendments, provisions of the organ transplant law that forbid organ donations by children under 15 will be repealed, opening the way for organ transplants between children. The new law also marks the first time that brain death has been recognized as the legal death of a person in Japan.
During deliberations on the successful bill, the bill's sponsor explained that the brain death provisions of the amendments would apply only to instances of organ donation, not to the definition of legal death generally.
Under current organ transplantation laws, those under 15 cannot donate organs, and children in need of an organ transplant must have the procedure done overseas. However, the World Health Organization is encouraging nations to focus on domestic transplants. Since the current transplant law came into effect in 1997, there have been only 81 organ transplants from brain dead donors, and the amendment passed Monday -- allowing children to donate organs and defining brain death as legal death for organ donors -- aims to greatly expand organ donations.
The successful transplant law amendments passed the House of Representatives on June 18 with some 60 percent of members in favor, and were sent to the Upper House for final approval. However, there were many Upper House members who took the position that, while it was certainly necessary to expand organ donations in Japan, broader social consent to redefine legal death was lacking, and members from both in and outside the government presented an amendment to the bill that would have retained the current definition of brain death.
However, core supporters of the bill were adamant that to change the brain death provisions of the bill would render the legislation "meaningless," and, along with many other Upper House members who labeled the latest amended bill "insufficient," rejected it in favor of the original revision. Nevertheless, the bill's sponsor felt compelled to address opponents' concerns that the bill would lead to a widening tendency to withdraw treatment after brain death in all cases, emphasizing that the brain death provisions were "not to be applied beyond the scope of the Law on Organ Transplantation."
Controversial sections of the legislation included provisions allowing a deceased person's family to approve of organ donations even in cases where it is unknown whether the deceased intended to do so, as if it is discovered that the deceased did not want to donate their organs after they have been removed. Furthermore, the difficulty of determining brain death in children versus adults was also an issue during the debate.
An amendment to the original bill was rejected by a vote of 135 to 72. A move to keep the current law in place for now while creating a one year commission to study child brain death and the implementation of children's organ transplants was not put to a vote.
Other than the Japanese Communist Party -- which supported the one year commission proposal -- all the parties allowed their members to vote freely according to their personal views on life and death.
Click here for the original Japanese story.
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