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BBC's biased report on organ transplants


Yesterday, BBC World broadcasted a report on organ transplants in Japan, which was made by a BBC correspondent in Tokyo. I happened to see the report, but it seemed to me that it was a very biased one. The reason was that they have not made a sufficient research on the debate about brain death and organ transplantation in Japan.

They stressed that Japan is the country where very few organs have been transplanted (Yes, this is true), and that it is impossible for a child to get hearts from dead donors (Yes, this is also true), and they said that in Japan a number of organs are "wasted" (Well, what do they mean by this word? In Japan, such an improper word is not used in the context of organ transplants any more today), and they questioned why Japanese do not wish to donate their organs to save patients and children.

The biggest problem is that in Japan the brain death controversy has not yet been settled among lay people and among specialists. About 30% of the population do not accept the idea that a brain dead person is dead. Unlike UK and other countries, Japanese people have experienced a nation-wide debate on brain death in 1980s and 90s, and not a few of them know questionable data about brain death. Some weeks ago a Japanese news show finally aired the videotape of "lazarus sign," in which a brain dead patient's both arms voluntarily move around his body in a complicated way as if he had clear consciousness. This video was taken by medial stuff in an intensive care unit of a hospital. Such signs have been observed in a number of hospitals around the world, but the information have not been offered to lay people until today. (Although lazarus sign does not show the consciousness of the brain dead patient, this fact eloquently shows that the reality of brain death is contrary to lay people's intuition about it.)

Many Japanese people still hesitate to accept brain death as human death. There are many specialists around the world who do not think brain death as human death, but their voices do not reach lay people in their countries because the mass media does not try to report them. Unlike those countries, the Japanese mass media has tried to report various information on brain death, and as a result, Japanese people have been provided with not only positive data but also negative data about brain death.

The viewers of BBC World would probably have had the impression that the Japanese are the "egoistic" people who does not wish to donate their organs after they die. This is because BBC did not report in their program the importance of the brain death controversy in Japan. This is the reason I say that BBC's report was heavily biased.

Please read the related paper: "Reconsidering Brain Death: A Lesson from Japan’s Fifteen Years of Experience" (Hastings Center Report, 2001)

Related posts: *Japanese organ transplantation law
                     *Ethics of infant brain death

Photo: Konoe Kaikan building, Tokyo

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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