The Lower House voted yesterday to remove the major restrictions on organ transplants in Japan–an age limit and the need for family consent of the donor. Since the organ transplant law was passed, transplants have been difficult to get in Japan and are fairly rare–only 81 in the 11 years since the current law was enacted. Yesterday’s changes were spurred by pressure from the WHO, looking to stem the tide of “medical tourists” who go overseas to get transplants.
Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone agrees with the changes that were made. Many Japanese remain wary of organ transplants and the concept of “brain death,” necessary for organ transplants, is not as accepted in Japan as it is in the United States. Twice Dead, by Margaret Lock, details many objections Japanese people have; the most interesting one she cites relates to 贈答文化, exchange culture, in that a donee can not properly return the favor.
Now, this was nowhere near as interesting as the reason detailed in the newspaper handed to me this morning as I passed a group of protesters demonstrating outside the Diet. According to 関東「障害者」解放委員会, the Kanto “Disabled Persons” Liberation Committee, the law will allow the nefarious Japanese government to do what it has long wanted: harvest organs from workers and sell them on the global market. Social stratification in Japan has spread to the medical arena and politicans led astray by America’s neo-liberal influence are plotting to increase the number of its brain death diagnoses in order to save costs on emergency care and further oppress the working poor! Will the capitalists never cease their brutal exploitation of workers?
After getting over my shock in realizing I was actually reading the headline of the newspaper correctly, I found myself somewhat disappointed that the protestors couldn’t have put together a better case. It is possible to argue against organ transplants without sounding like a complete nut. Although the criteria for brain death are quite rigorous and misdiagnoses are nearly unheard of, there are rare cases of people being declared brain-dead and then coming back to life. The idea of brain death also conflicts with many religious and cultural notions of death. These aren’t limited to non-Western cultures; according to Wikipedia, the orthodox Jewish community is divided over the issue.
Of course, these nuanced arguments are complicated. It’s much easier to simply say that Japanese politicians are selling poor people’s hearts and livers to line their pockets. Ah, politics! I can’t wait to see what I’m handed the next time I head to Nagatacho.