Europe Increases Efforts to Combat Illegal Organ Transplant Tourism

Council of Europe:

On January 9, 2020, the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development released its Organ Transplant Tourism Report with a warning for all member states to “exercise particular caution when co-operating with the China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS) and the Red Cross Society of China, in view of a recent study casting doubt on the credibility of China’s organ transplant reform.” The recent BMC Medical Ethics study provides evidence of systematic manipulation and falsification of official government transplantation databases in China.

The Committee reports that, despite China’s claims to the contrary, evidence suggests transplant tourism to China has not been eradicated. Critics suspect “China is transplanting many more organs than it officially wants to acknowledge and that prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, such as Falun Gong practitioners, and other minority groups such as Uighur Muslims, Tibetans and Christians” are being held as a living organ donor bank, ready to be killed on-demand for their organs.

Unfortunately, the report identifies many Western countries as origins of transplant tourists who continue to provide demand for the organ transplant tourism market. In order to effectively combat global transplant tourism, the authors feel that criminalizing transplant tourism alone is not the answer.

Rather, a holistic approach, such as that taken over a decade ago by Israel, should be used to both halt and prevent organ transplant tourism. This would involve not only criminalizing involvement in transplant tourism, but also increasing the numbers of organs donated with informed and voluntary consent, closing the gap between supply and demand, with the goal of each nation becoming self-sufficient in both organ donation and transplantation.

Additionally, the report suggests all member states “develop and implement population-based prevention strategies to prevent (and treat) organ failure in the first place,” stressing that “transplant oversight should be improved through intergovernmental efforts, in Europe and globally.”

United Kingdom:

On January 28, 2020, the United Kingdom’s House of Lords heard the first reading of the Organ Tourism and Cadavers on Display Bill “to amend the Human Tissue Act 2004 concerning consent to activities done for the purpose of transplantation outside the United Kingdom and consent for imported cadavers on display.”

The bill would prohibit UK persons from traveling abroad “for the purpose of organ transplantation when the organ donor has not provided free, informed and specific consent,” while rendering it a criminal offense to receive unethically procured organs whether or not the recipient is aware of organ procurement details.

Additionally, the bill would require detailed medical records be kept for all UK persons receiving organs abroad as well as an annual tracking report by the NHS Blood and Transplant of UK citizens who have undergone transplant procedures outside the UK.

The NHS Blood and Transplant would also be required to produce an annual report on imported bodies on display, ensuring that the foreign cadavers were obtained using the same consent requirements as those sourced from the UK.

Czech Republic:

Parliamentarians in the Czech Republic continue to express serious concerns about organ harvesting in China.

MP Helena Langšádlová said, “Be it Falun Gong followers, Christians, Uighurs, Tibetans and others. The forms of human rights violations in China are really horrific. Organ removal, executions, persecution. It is good for us to remember that it is China we are doing business with.”

“Organ removal and human rights violations are not abstract words. Behind these terms there are specific people whose organs have been monetized, and their families do not even know where the remains of their bodies are,” said MP Olga Richterová.

Czech lawmakers are proposing an amendment to the Transplant Act to address organ transplant practices in China that would criminalize obtaining organs from involuntary donors. They are also calling on the “Czech government to clearly state which countries have problems with trafficking in organs, so that it makes it much more difficult to obtain an organ in that country.”

Health Europa reporting:

In December, 2019, Stephanie Price of Health Europa reported on research published by the Institute to Research the Crimes of Communism entitled the Economics Of Organ Harvesting In China that demonstrates how several prominent Western companies are ‘taking part’ in China’s organ harvesting crimes, including businesses based in the Unites States, United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Becky Brickwood of Health Europa Quarterly published a series of articles about China’s unethical transplant industry in January and February of 2020.

Co-founder of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting and leading Israeli heart transplant surgeon, Professor Jacob Lavee, was interviewed about unethical organ transplantation in China. Dr. Lavee, director of the largest heart transplant unit in Israel, was senior author on the recently published BMC Medical Ethics statistical analysis, which claims most of China’s official transplant data “is absolutely fraud.”

Dr. Lavee first learned about organ harvesting on demand in China from a patient in 2005 and was subsequently instrumental in the enactment of the 2008 organ transplant law passed by the Israeli parliament which banned its citizens from participating in transplant tourism and greatly increased the country’s voluntarily organ donation rates. Israel was cited as a successful, holistic example of how to combat organ transplant tourism in the January 2020 organ transplant report from the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

“Blocking or banning transplant tourism is one of the major measures that the West can take against the forced organ harvesting which takes place in China. How can a surgeon in his right mind kill an innocent human being in order to harvest organs and transplant these organs into another person? This is beyond understanding,” Dr. Lavee said.

Health Europa Quarterly also  interviewed Australian bioethicist, Professor Wendy Rogers, who spoke about the ethical responsibilities of physicians and academics. Rogers first learned of organ harvesting from the 2015 documentary film Hard to Believe, and then from reading Gutmann’s 2013 book The Slaughter, and Matas and Kilgour’s 2008 book Bloody Harvest.

Rogers said the intent to commit genocide against religious minorities exist within the Chinese government. When positing the question, “How can Chinese doctors remove organs from living people causing death?” she described how, “It is completely normalized [in China]. There has been such a programme of brutalisation against the Falun Gong practitioners, and now against the Uyghurs, that they’re not really considered human, they’re considered enemies of the state.”

Rogers’ efforts have had a positive effect in the academic community. Since she and co-authors published an article in the BMJ Open questioning organ sourcing in 445 previously published Chinese research papers, demanding their retraction, PLOS ONE and Transplantation have retracted a total of 27 papers.

Two subsequent articles tell the stories of Falun Gong practitioners who survived unimaginable torture during years of illegal incarceration for their spiritual beliefs. Dai Ying, a Falun Gong practitioner from Shenzhen, was “tortured, force fed and subjected to medical exams which she suspects to have been a precursor to forced organ harvesting.” Another Falun Gong practitioner, Zhang Yanhua, describes enduring torture and brainwashing during seven years of imprisonment in northern China.