Thursday, May 14, 2009

Organs for transplant in Japan

The London Times reports on the shortage of transplantable organs in Japan, where deceased donation is very limited due to the legal requirement of cardiac death. The article is about future possibilities of cloning human organs in sheep. Nearer at hand, the article describes how the organ shortage in Japan is made more serious by the decreasing availability of organ transplants overseas, through growing restrictions on "transplant tourism": Japanese scientist claims breakthrough with organ grown in sheep:

"The reason for Professor Hanazono’s sense of urgency — and for the entire organ harvest project being undertaken at the Jichi Medical University — lies many miles away in Tokyo and with a historical peculiarity of the Japanese legal system.
Japan defines death as the point when the heart permanently stops. The concept of brain death — the phase at which organs can most effectively be harvested from donors — does exist, but organs cannot be extracted at that point.
The long-term effect of the legal definition has been striking: organ donation in Japan is virtually nonexistent, forcing many people to travel abroad in search of transplants. In the United States, the rate of organ donors per million people is about 27; in Japan it is under 0.8.
The effect, say paediatricians, has been especially severe for children. The same law that discounts brain death as suitable circumstances for organ donation broadly prevents children under 15 from allowing their organs to be harvested.
To make matters worse, international restrictions on transplant tourism are becoming ever tougher, making Japan’s position even more untenable. To avert disaster, say doctors, Japan either needs the science of synthetic organ generation to advance faster than seems possible, or it needs a complete rethink on the Japanese definition of death. "

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