Research article

BMC Medical Ethics

, 6:1

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Public appraisal of government efforts and participation intent in medico-ethical policymaking in Japan: a large scale national survey concerning brain death and organ transplant

  • Hajime SatoAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo Email author 
  • , Akira AkabayashiAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Ethics, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo
  • , Ichiro KaiAffiliated withDepartment of Social Gerontology, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo



Public satisfaction with policy process influences the legitimacy and acceptance of policies, and conditions the future political process, especially when contending ethical value judgments are involved. On the other hand, public involvement is required if effective policy is to be developed and accepted.


Using the data from a large-scale national opinion survey, this study evaluates public appraisal of past government efforts to legalize organ transplant from brain-dead bodies in Japan, and examines the public's intent to participate in future policy.


A relatively large percentage of people became aware of the issue when government actions were initiated, and many increasingly formed their own opinions on the policy in question. However, a significant number (43.3%) remained unaware of any legislative efforts, and only 26.3% of those who were aware provided positive appraisals of the policymaking process. Furthermore, a majority of respondents (61.8%) indicated unwillingness to participate in future policy discussions of bioethical issues. Multivariate analysis revealed the following factors are associated with positive appraisals of policy development: greater age; earlier opinion formation; and familiarity with donor cards. Factors associated with likelihood of future participation in policy discussion include younger age, earlier attention to the issue, and knowledge of past government efforts. Those unwilling to participate cited as their reasons that experts are more knowledgeable and that the issues are too complex.


Results of an opinion survey in Japan were presented, and a set of factors statistically associated with them were discussed. Further efforts to improve policy making process on bioethical issues are desirable.