Organ transplantation in Japan

Organ transplantation in Japan

Organ transplantation in Japan is regulated by the 1997 Organ Transplant Law which legalized organ procurement from "brain dead" donors.[1] After an early involvement in organ transplantation that was on a par with developments in the rest of the world, attitudes in Japan altered after a transplant by Dr. Wada in 1968 failed, and a subsequent ban on cadaveric organ donation lasted thirty years. The first transplant after the Organ Transplant Law had defined "brain death" took place in February 1999.[2]

Due to cultural reasons and a relative distrust of western medicine, the rate of organ donation in Japan is significantly lower than in Western countries.[3]


The first organ transplant in Japan took place at Niigata University in 1956 when a kidney was temporarily transplanted to a patient with acute renal failure.[4] In 1964 a permanent and full-scale kidney transplant was successfully undertaken at the University of Tokyo, and by 1992 nearly 9,000 kidney transplants had taken place.[5] In the same year, a liver transplant was performed at Chiba University by Professor Komei Nakayama.[6] The first heart transplant in Japan was conducted at Sapporo Medical University in 1968 by Dr Wada.[7] This operation attracted concerns that Dr Wada's evaluation of brain death was inappropriate, and even though an investigation of possible criminal liability was dismissed, a distrust of organ transplanting developed, particularly of transplants from brain dead donors. This brought subsequent developments in transplanting to a halt.[6][8]

Cultural attitudes

The Japanese people's views regarding life, death, ethics and religion have influenced their negative attitude toward organ transplanting. The Wada heart transplant in 1968 increased a sense of apprehension, especially regarding the evaluation of brain death.[1] The Shinto religion regards death as impure, and has tainted connotations which have carried through into Japanese culture. Burakumin are a Japanese minority whose occupations dealt with death.


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