WASHINGTON, April 7, 2015 – The international community should not find relief from the crisis in transplant medicine in China’s recent promise to end the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, said the medical watchdog organization, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH).
The Chinese government has a lengthy record of secrecy, misleading numbers and contradictory statements, and, despite mounting evidence and international demands to stop, the government has refused to acknowledge the illegal harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience.
China’s primary organ source, said to be executed death row inmates, foreshadows a different reality: an increased reliance on organ procurement from prisoners of conscience. This vulnerable group, of which the brutally persecuted Buddhist practice, Falun Gong, among others, is the primary target, is at increased risk of falling victim to the demand for forcibly procured organs. DAFOH urges the global medical community to be vigilant and not accept China’s claims at face value, pointing out several key factors:
- Murky legal situation. Since an implemented regulation in 1984, China has harvested organs from executed prisoners. Incredibly, in a recent interview, transplant architect Huang Jiefu denied that the policy was ever an official “law” – which, if true, would render tens of thousands of organ procurements illegal and the same amount of transplant surgeries unethical, demanding the prosecution of doctors and personnel.
- Chameleon-like statements. In a 2013 report by ABC, Huang defended the practice saying that death row prisoners would want redemption, thus, “Why do you object?” In 2014, he stated that prisoners were citizens with the right to donate organs, an interpretation of ethical standards not shared by the international community. Last month, with a shift in political winds, Huang completely reversed this position, calling the practice “a forbidden zone,” pointing the finger to the now disgraced Chinese security czar, Zhou Yongkang.
- ‘Implausible Disappearing Transplants.’ Chinese hospitals have been busily scrubbing their websites of evidence to downplay the extent of the transplant business. In July, 2014, the Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People’s Hospital boasted on its website that, since its establishment in 1999, it had performed over 1,000 kidney transplants. In February 2015, in a climate of global scrutiny over China’s organ transplant policies, the same website was altered, now crediting the facility with only 500 kidney transplants since 1999. The number of kidney transplants that the department head performed was also changed from 2,000 to 1,200 during that time.
It is evident that China is not ready to join the ethical value based transplant community as an equal, trusted partner.
In order to take the Chinese government’s claims seriously, international monitoring groups and medical organizations must demand:
- Full disclosure of the use of prisoners of conscience as organ source,
- Transparency of organ sources, and
- Access to China’s organ procurement pathways.
Damon Noto, MD