Organ Harvesting in Japan–Now Legal?

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.

(Interestingly enough, Japan has had problems with people who allegedly broker “used” organs. Also, see Roy’s post about Japanese organ harvesting in Thailand.)

A conspiracy mindset setting in?

Looking for a transcript of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s congressional testimony, here is what Google recommended to me as a common search:

“Geithner Jew” — is he even Jewish? Apparently not.

I guess these searches could be coming from curious Jews wondering if one of their own was promoted to high office.

Leica Freedom Train

I was browsing photography discussion forums, as I do once in a while, and stumbled across this fantastic little story, which I also had somehow never heard before.

I carry my Leica camera a bit more proudly these days.

The reason? A story I had never heard before – a tale of courage, integrity and humility that is only now coming to light, some 70 years after the fact.

The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. From a nitpicking point of view, it wasn’t the very first still camera to use 35mm movie film, but it was the first to be widely publicized and successfully marketed.

It created the “candid camera” boom of the 1930s.

It is a German product – precise, minimalist, utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty.

E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany’s most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, “the photography industry’s Schindler.”
Continue reading Leica Freedom Train

Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics

If you enjoyed my recent posts on WW2 era comic book covers and are in the New York area, you may want to check out Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics, an exhibition running at The New York Jewish Museum from September 15, 2006 to January 28, 2007. Curated by Jerry Robinson, whose best known creation is The Joker, possibly the best known comic book supervillian of all time, showcases art from the golden age of comic books (from the popularization of the art form in the late 1930s until it came under a period of attack in the early 1950s) in the context of the socio-political conditions of the time. Naturally, since this is The Jewish Museum and the vast majority of early comic book creators were Jewish, there is a strong focus on the relationship that these creators’ Jewish identity had to their art.

Comic book news site Newsarama has a very interesting interview with Jerry Robinson about the exhibit.

NRAMA: Do you have any insight into why Jews were such a big part of the comic book industry in the beginning?

JR: I’ve done a lot of research on this and it’s going to become a book based on the two exhibitions and it will be published by one of the major art publishers in America. Jewish artists and creators have been prominent in New York culture since the turn of the century. A lot of artists, writers, poets, also scientists and other professions were in that first wave of immigration in the 1890’s/1900’s. Then the next wave was due to the rise of Nazism and that wave included a lot of artists, writers and theatrical people. So from that whole first half of the 20th Century, New York absorbed a lot of diverse talent, along with many other immigrants of other nationalities, German, Italian, Russian, etc. But many of them were Jewish and were prominent in their areas. For example, the early movie industry was also dominated by a lot of Jewish actors, writers, filmmakers from Europe. They immigrated to New York and settled in the Lower East Side and at one time there were hundreds of theaters around the country that were showing Jewish plays and performances. The film industry, again, had many prominent Jews such MGM with David O. Selznick, Carl Laemmle with Universal. I can’t name them all.

I was pleased to see that in the interview he also mentioned the exhibit’s collection of covers he chose to include Captain America #1, which earlier this week I called my favorite of the WW2 era anti-Axis covers.

Unfortunately, I will not be back home in the New York area until next summer so I will be missing out on this exhibit, but it sounds well worth visiting for anyone interested in the history of American popular culture, American/New York Jewish history, or comic books at all. And of course, while on this topic I must make a very strong recommendation that anyone with even the slightest, teeniest bit of interest in this stuff immediately get your hands on a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Don’t let the fact that it won the Pulitzer prize for literary scare you off. This fictionalized account of the careers of a a duo of Siegel and Schuster-esque creators of a Nazi-fighting superhero by the name of The Escapist is amazingly fun to read.