Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of University of Sydney questions Honorary Professor title to Huang Jiefu


The University of Sydney awarded China’s Vice-Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, with the title of Honorary Professor in 2008 and again in 2011. In a letter to Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence, Prof. Maria Fiatarone-Singh has expressed concerns about the two Honorary Professor titles and requested that these titles be revoked on the basis of ethical concerns over his professional activities as a medical doctor and Vice-Minister of Health, which violate the University of Sydney’s Code of Conduct, which applies to all such honorees.

The former Vice-Minister of Health presided over the Ministry when the numbers of transplants in China increased exponentially after 2000, despite the lack of a public organ donation system. Huang Jiefu stated in 2006 that up to 90% of organs used in transplantations stemmed from executed prisoners. He has also admitted to transplanting livers after leaving his training as a visiting scholar with the University of Sydney in 1987. Given the source of all organs transplanted in China, by his own words, these livers would likely have been almost entirely sourced from executed prisoners, a practice that would be condemned under Australian law and international law.  Yet USYD awarded, and continues to justify the honorary titles to this day.

According to virtually all published ethical guidelines the use of organs from executed prisoners is considered unethical. USYD endorses such ethical guidelines and the Declaration of Istanbul, which condemns the use of organs from executed prisoners. In 2012, the WMA published a statement according to which the use of organs from executed prisoners in a country where death penalty is practiced is unacceptable.

According to investigations by David Kilgour and David Matas, organs in China during this period  were also harvested from living Falun Gong practitioners who were detained for their beliefs. In 2006, Kilgour and Matas investigated this crime against humanity and called 17 hospitals in China. They found that the doctors admitted to the use of organs from Falun Gong practitioners. If the doctors from these hospitals knew about the use of organs from Falun Gong practitioners, it is likely that the Vice-Minister of Health also knew about it, yet he continued to transplant livers himself. As Vice-Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu could have chosen to not participate in unethical transplantations and halted his transplant activities until an ethical voluntary donor system was established, yet he continued to perform transplants, being reported as recently as November 2012 to perform approximately 2 liver transplants every week in China.  No evidence or traceable data is available to suggest that the source of these livers is different than the 90% of organs coming from executed prisoners.

It is inconceivable that a transplant surgeon who violated internationally recognized ethical guidelines throughout his career would be awarded with two Honorary Professor titles at the oldest and most prestigious academic institution in Australia, a country that is signatory to policies of the United Nations, the World Medical Association, The Declaration of Istanbul, The Transplantation Society, The Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand, and other bodies which have condemned this practice.

The letter of Prof. Maria Fiatarone Singh addressed this incongruity between the career of Huang Jiefu and the ethical guidelines that USYD upholds.