Family honored wish of man to donate organs
A person who had not expressed in writing his wish to donate his organs was declared brain dead this week with his family's consent, and organs including his heart and lungs were to be transplanted.
The transplant operations using the organs taken from this man represent the first of their kind under the revised Organ Transplant Law, which is aimed at expanding transplant medicine.
The donor is a man in his 20s who was involved in a traffic accident. He was not carrying an organ donor card, but reportedly had told his family he wanted to donate his organs if such a situation occurred.
His family respected his wishes, but it was certainly an extremely grave and painful decision to make.
This man will save a number of other people's lives, with his heart going to a man in his 20s in Osaka Prefecture, his lungs to another man in his 20s in Okayama, his liver to a woman in her 60s in Tokyo and his kidney to a teenage boy in Gunma Prefecture. This is a relay of precious human life.
More lives to be saved
Before the revised law took effect July 17, organ transplants could not be conducted unless a person expressed his or her intention to donate organs through a donor card or other written declaration.
In the United States and Europe, organ transplants can be made at the discretion of a person's family, as long as that person had not expressed an intention not to donate. This system has allowed thousands of organ transplants from brain-dead donors to be conducted every year in the United States and several hundred in major European nations.
The revised law has made it possible for the family of a would-be donor in this country to have that discretion, just as in the United States and Europe.
Over the 13 years since the original Organ Transplant Law took effect in 1997, and before the latest case, organ transplants were performed involving 86 brain-dead donors. Under the revised law, there are expected to be as many as 30 cases or more every year.
Since the revised law also allows transplants between young children, including infants, such operations also are likely to take place eventually.
Safeguards must be ensured
To ensure organ transplants involving brain-dead donors are properly handled, it is important to thoroughly examine the latest case.
Was the man provided with all possible treatment? Were procedures strictly followed in the pronouncement of brain death? Did his family give their consent with sufficient confidence in their decision? It is essential to strictly check all relevant points to nurture public trust in organ transplants.
In the latest case, the man is said to have orally expressed to his family his intention to donate his organs. It is unlikely, however, that this will commonly occur.
If a donor has not expressed his or her intentions, family members will face enormous pressure as they are asked to decide whether brain death should be declared and organs donated.
Whether a potential donor explicitly expressed his or her intention is of primary importance even under the revised law.
There is space to make a written declaration on new driver's licenses and health insurance cards. Everyone should seriously consider whether to agree to donate organs should something leave him or her in a state of brain death.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 10, 2010)