Concerns Over Unethical Transplant Practices Result in Retraction of over 20 Chinese Academic Papers

Last February, ethicist Wendy Rogers of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia published serious concerns that over 90% of the peer-review published articles from mainland Chinese transplant professionals used data from over 80,000 transplants surgeries where organs were most likely sourced from executed prisoners. In addition, Rogers and her team found that ethical standards had not been met in approving the publication of these studies.

Since then, several medical journals have retracted about 5% of the previously published Chinese transplant research papers. These retraction events have been reported by media around the world, including The Daily Mail, New Scientist, National Review, Evolution News, Multibriefs and Medscape Medical News.

In June, the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology published their concerns about three kidney transplant studies conducted in China. Kidney International followed suit.

A few months later, the journals Transplantation and PLOS One retracted fifteen papers on organ transplantation by mainland Chinese researchers due to concerns over unethical organ sourcing and procurement practices.

Transplantation, which retracted seven papers, noted the manuscripts were withdrawn after it became “clear, with the benefit of hindsight, and through the Chinese Government’s subsequent clarifications of their practices, that most deceased donors were from executed people, before the Government implementation of Donation after Circulatory Death in 2010 in selected hospitals and widely from 2015. This was not transparent to reviewers and editors at the time of original acceptance for publication of these articles.”

The Plus One editors retracted eight papers, stating, “Details as to the donor sources and methods of obtaining informed consent from donors were not reported in this article, and when following up on these concerns the authors did not clarify these issues or the cause(s) of donor death in response to journal inquiries. International ethical standards call for transparency in organ donor and transplantation programs and clear informed consent procedures including considerations to ensure that donors are not subject to coercion.”

Earlier this month, Medscape Medical News reported that the retracted article count has climbed to over twenty with more journals expected to join the tide of ethical concerns.

In explaining their decisions, the British Medical Journal reported that all the journals retracting papers referenced  Rogers’ article that examined the ethical standards of 445 transplantation articles from China.

“We are pleased to see that at least some editors of the journals that we identified as publishing unethical research have started the process of investigating and retracting papers,” Rogers stated. “We reiterate our call for a systemic response by the academic transplant community – to issue a moratorium on publication of all transplant research from the PRC until guidelines are developed and implemented regarding compliance with international ethical norms.”

Wesley J. Smith from the National Review wrote, “Retracting papers should just be the beginning. Chinese organ-transplant doctors should be barred from international symposia and such events in China should be boycotted, as well as refusing or retracting other honors until the country proves that it no longer countenances kill-and-harvest, whether for sale, research, or otherwise.

Although the editorial boards of several peer-reviewed medical journals are beginning to grasp the truth about China’s transplant industry, Rogers feels “the lack of engagement and leadership from the transplant community is disappointing.”