Interview with Dr. Jacob Lavee [about forced organ harvesting]

The Jordan Rich Show, WBZ News Radio (CBS affiliate in Boston, MA)
June 9. 2012


Reporter: Welcome back to the Jordan Rich program. Here’s a topic which we’ve covered in the past and I think it’s important to cover it. It has to do with the practice, and it’s a terrible practice, of organ harvesting around the world and in one part of the world, Asia, particularly China, red China, this is an ongoing practice. Joining me from a recent conference, and this conference just broke up in Boston, Dr. Jacob Lavee. He is an MD and a cardiac surgeon, director of the heart transplantation unit at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel and that conference was called ‘Transplant Medicine at a Cross-roads.’ Doctor thanks for joining me for a few minutes and I know one of the topics you’ve focuses on is the illegal harvesting and then transport of organs. How bad a problem is this first of all?

Lavee: Well it seems to quite a bad problem. It used to be mostly transplant tourism and that patients that needed various organs from all over the world used to gather in China and get the organs on a prescheduled date many times because the source of the organs were either executed prisoners, illegally so to speak executed prisoners, and mainly Falun Gong practitioners who had been executed on demand on a specific day just to provide organs for all those transplant tourism coming from all over the world. Nowadays from what we hear, the number of tourism has declined however the number of executions and use of organs in China hasn’t changed. They provide more organs to their local citizens who have been able to provide the price.

Reporter: By the way, Falun Gong is an organization or group of people, meditative people, who are very peaceful in nature but are a threat to the communist society. They have been under persecution for many years. And this particular approach of harvesting organs from living donors, literally torturing them and killing them in some cases, has been going on for some time and the world has been slow to speak up. Would you agree?

Levee: Yeah absolutely and that’s what’s so amazing about it Jordan. It has been known since the early 1980’s that executed prisoners have been used as a source of organs for transplant in China and organs were sold to anybody that can afford the price. Now in recent years we’ve mentioned that the Falun Gong practitioners have been added to this and actually becoming even major sources, even more than the regular, so to speak, executed prisoners. Although the information is known all over the world, there have been several reports of physicians who fled from China and gave their testimonies here in the West, and has been a huge report by David Kilgour and David Matas. Matas actually took part in Boston. It is known, the figures are known, and almost nothing is being done in most of the Western countries. I, for example, I brought it to the attention of the people who had attended the meeting that we have done in Israel, whereby we have banned, by law, and reimbursement of transplant of Israelis that are done anywhere in the world where organ trade or illegal procurement is taking place. And therefore, since 2008, there’s not a single Israeli going to China anymore as opposed to several hundreds that went to China before that. But similar measures have to be taken by other countries as well. At least to stop completely transplant tourism and from there onwards, some political pressure over the Chinese government has to take place in order to stop it from occurring from within China.

Reporter: We’re talking about the transplant abuse that goes on, as far as we can tell, quite sanctioned by the authoritative regime in China. And if it can happen in China, which is a more “modern”country, it can and probably does happen in other parts of the world. Do we have any indication that any other countries have joined forces with this kind of practice or is China the leader?
Lavee: Well China is not the leader. China is the only one. There is not a single other country in the world that’s using executed prisoners or tortured prisoners as a source for organs. Organ trade is taking place, mainly from living people that are selling one of their kidneys, something totally illegal, of course. But this is something really really unique to China.

Reporter: And the word has gotten slowly but surely. We’ve done more than one interview with people from the Falun Gong support groups. And when you ____ these people in Falun Gong, you realize how truly peaceful they’re just trying to get along, and that they’re not only attacked and persecuted, the most God-awful thing, their organs are taken from them while living. Now doctor, in Israel you say that law has gone into effect and is very effective. I’m not sure what the States have in play, if anything. What are we doing in this country? Anything?

Lavee: From what I hear from my medicine colleagues, there is slowly, slowly movement towards similar measures here, but it’s still not something that’s going to materialize in the near future. Something that did take place, and I was part of it, was an academic sort of..any publication, any paper, any abstract, any presentation coming out of the Chinese transplant community, these have been banned by many international societies, including American societies of transplantation. Therefore no Chinese, apparently, no Chinese transplant physician or surgeon can publish or present any ______ (~ 5:19)which is based on any of these atrocities. So that’s at least part of academic pressure that can be put on the Chinese.

Reporter: I know, doctor, that you and your colleagues that have taken an interest in this, are also trying to bring to the attention of doctors worldwide that anyone who accepts and organ that comes from this kind of horror, and this kind of torture, is literally attendant to this kind of crime.

Lavee: Absolutely. And according to the Israeli, for example, the Israeli transplant law, this is a crime that can be punished by jail. So you should not accept [an] organ, you should not buy an organ, and obviously you should not play any part as a mediator between the organ donor and recipient.

Reporter: Obviously in terms of organ donorship, it’s still a world-wide need. It’s still a worldwide epidemic that people need these organs and we have to do it the appropriate way and allow people to do what they do in this country and in other countries; sign the card, donate after they’re gone. That’s the civilized way to do it.

Lavee: Absolutely. And the way we have done it, we have tackled this problem in order to increase the number of local donation from within Israel. We have incorporated into our organ transplant law something that is really unique, whereby registered donors, who have registered as donors at least three years before becoming active candidates for organ transplant themselves, will be prioritized in organ allocation because they have been registered donors. This way we incentivize organ donation after death and we penalize all those who would be free riders, who don’t have any problem in becoming candidates, yet do not register as organ donors themselves.

Reporter: I would urge our listeners to contact their congressman, senators and representatives to talk to them a little bit about this and, please folks, google, just it look up, Falun Gong, and that’s in China. That is the group that is most often persecuted, but there are actually others who are persecuted throughout China for their religious or political views. Take a look at what’s going on with harvesting of organs. There’s a book called, ‘Bloodly Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs’ by David Kilgour. There are a lot of other resources out there. And doctor you’re, of course, based in Israel, but it’s nice to see docs from around the world getting together at least starting to get this thing rolling.

Lavee: Yeah the message is being carried around both in United States and Europe. If you compare the situation nowadays and to two or three years ago, there’s really a major major change. And hopefully all this international pressure, both from the academic societies and from political societies will eventually bear fruit.

Reporter: Well please extend my best wishes to everyone on the panel. Dr J. Lavee, who is a cardiac surgeon, director of the heart transplantation unit in Israel at the Sheba Medical Center, I wish you well. But more importantly we wish our friends in China, who are in desperate need of help, all the best. Thanks for the update.

Lavee: Thank you very much Jordan.