The "Organ Transplant Law" took effect on October 16, 1997 and legalized transplanting organs from brain dead donors in Japan. Approximately 40 years after the world's first heart transplant in South Africa, and over a decade after the establishment of United Network Organ Sharing (UNOS), "organ transplanting from brain dead donors" was finally made possible-something that had already been recognized as normal procedure in other advanced countries. It has been said that organ transplanting would not come to fruition in Japan because of the unique views of the Japanese people toward life, death, ethics and religion. Ever since the Wada heart transplant in 1968, there has been a deep-rooted sense of apprehension toward brain death and transplanting. Now, as light flickers at the end of the tunnel, it is time to reconsider the issues facing organ transplantation in Japan and to discuss the steps that need to be taken.
There are a number of body parts that deteriorate through every day life or cease to function because of accidents or disease. Since long ago, various methods have existed for repair or replacement of these deteriorated or lost functions. Glasses and false teeth are common methods that use man made objects. Tissue transplants have been performed using human skin and corneas.
Recently, technological advances in artificial kidneys have served to prolong the lives of renal failure patients, but they cannot completely replace renal functions. It is difficult to replace organs such as the kidney, heart or liver with mechanical devices because of their very complicated functions. As such, deterioration of these organs eventually results in death.
Organ transplant is a course of treatment aimed at saving the life of a patient for whom drugs and mechanical devices have only a limited effect, and the only alternative is to replace the damaged organ with a healthy one. As the number of transplants and potential recipients increase, organ transplanting is no longer merely a health care issue. Organ transplanting is gradually becoming a social issue as well, because it involves more than the doctor-patient relationship; it requires the good will of a third party for an organ donation.