Japanese lawmakers plan to scrap soon a ban on organ donations by children that has forced families of young patients to look overseas for transplants, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Now organs can be taken only from bodies of those 15 years or older, provided the donors had given their consent and their relatives agree.
But ruling party legislators seeking to end the country's acute child organ shortage have proposed loosening restrictions and lowering the legal donor's age to 12 or scrapping age limits altogether.
Hiroyuki Hosoda, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said that "many people are dying because of too many legal restrictions."
The World Health Organisation is expected next month to commit to a policy of discouraging people from seeking overseas organ transplants, the Yomuiri Shimbun daily reported.
Chief government spokesman Takeo Kawamura told a media briefing that in Japan "the organ transplant law has not addressed the problems of children. To put it bluntly, this is an omission by the legislature.
"There are many opinions regarding bio-ethical issues," he said. "It's time for in-depth debate in parliament and for decision-making."
Takeshi Sendo, a family friend who has supported 11-year-old Hiroki Ando's quest to receive a heart transplant in the United States, said he hoped more people -- particularly children -- could get organ donations in Japan.
Sendo said members of Ando's family, who planned to fly to the United States in June, had to raise nearly 100 million yen (one million dollars) in donations.
"If possible, patients should get a transplant here without the need to raise that much money," Sendo, a close friend of Ando's father, told AFP.
"It is an incredible amount of money."
Ando's sister suffered the same heart problem and died at the age of 15 five years ago, Sendo said.
Opponents of the plan to lower the age limit, including those in the main opposition party, want to tighten the definition of brain death.
Debate over the meaning of brain death has been controversial in Japan, where damaging a corpse has long been considered immoral.
Japan's organ transplant law took effect in 1997, and the first transplant from a brain-dead donor was carried out two years later.