Lung Transplants for Critically Ill Chinese Coronavirus Patients

On March 1, 2020, Chinese media announced that the world’s first successful double lung transplant for a critically ill coronavirus patient (Global Times, Xinhuanet, China Daily) was performed on February 29th by Chen Jingyu at the People’s Hospital of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Widely regarded as the “No. 1 Lung Transplant Surgeon in China,” Chen was quoted, “If we conduct more successful cases, I would recommend the National Health Commission to assemble a medical team to treat the critical patients in Wuhan with lung transplants.”

The Daily Mail reported that lung transplantation might represent a new treatment for coronavirus patients languishing on ventilators. The Epoch Times pointed out the incongruity of performing transplant surgery on an infected patient and questioned Chinese media’s assertion that, “[t]he transplanted lungs were donated by a non-local patient after brain death” as the transplant was performed just days after the patient was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Xinhuanet and CGTN reported that a second lung transplant had been performed on March 1st for another coronavirus patient at the First Affiliated Hospital of the College of Medicine, Zhejiang University. These lungs were reportedly from a brain-dead donor in Hunan Province.

Although overseas media concerns might have dampened further reports, over the ensuing week, Chinese media said that a total of four coronavirus patients had received lung transplants, two in Wuxi and two at Zhejiang University.

Coincident with the Chinese report on March 1, 2020 was the release of the China Tribunal’s final judgment. During the preceding eighteen months, the Tribunal heard evidence regarding long-term use of prisoners of conscience as forced live organ donors for China’s burgeoning transplant industry.

The highly respected Tribunal members concluded, “Forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and on multiple occasions for a period of at least twenty years” and that “there has been a population of donors accessible to hospitals in the PRC whose organs could be extracted according to demand… with many Falun Gong along with Uyghurs being compelled to have medical tests focused on their organs… Further still, it would appear probable that access to a supply of organs has been one of the reasons the PRC has been able to become so formidable in the skills required of transplant surgery… There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the Tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

These conclusions validated previous research and added weight to concerns raised by physicians, human rights activists, ethicists, and investigative reporters.

Sean Lin, former U.S. Army virology researcher, told The Epoch Times transplant surgery is unlikely to help seriously ill patients as they are most likely still infected and “[d]oing this [transplant surgery] is completely blasphemous.”

DAFOH’s Executive Director Dr. Torsten Trey called lung transplantation an “unprecedented” approach to treating the novel coronavirus and added, “There is certainly the possibility that the organs used for the lung transplants were forcibly harvested from prisoners. This risk increases whenever there is an on-demand scenario where donor organs are swiftly delivered.”

In another Epoch Times article, Dr. Jacob Lavee, leading Israeli transplant surgeon and founding member of DAFOH, said, “In addition to highlighting the unusually short waiting time for suitable donors, allocating donor lungs to such patients at this time seems an unusual decision which might be medically challenged. However, it certainly hints towards an ample supply of such lungs, or else an irresistible urge to become scientifically world famous.”

Former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour told The Epoch Times he would be “very surprised” if the organ donors for the lung transplants were sourced from genuine consenting donors.

ETAC quoted Australia’s Macquarie University professor Wendy Rogers, “Hailing the lung transplants as a significant step in reducing mortality from COVID-19 [coronavirus] indicates confidence in supply. As I understand it, a significant proportion of deaths from COVID-19 are related to respiratory failure, so they would need considerable numbers of lungs to be available in order to reduce mortality.”

University of Sidney professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, MD, FRACP, also quoted by ETAC, said, “What are the odds that just by chance a donor with a lung that matched the type needed by a patient with respiratory failure from COVID-19 should happen to die on the exact day the lung was needed and just happened to have volunteered to be an organ donor in a country where donation of organs is considered culturally unacceptable by most of the Chinese population?”

Independent reporter, author, and China expert Ethan Gutmann pragmatically suggested that “These lung transplants done in record time suggests that they are open for business. I’m reading the announcements as an ad.”

Researcher Ruth Ingram pointed out that the rapidity with which matching lungs were found was suspicious and declared, “News today that China is trumpeting another first… should fall on unimpressed and deeply sceptical ears. Serious questions, not adulation, should be asked… particularly when they involve further double lung transplants at short notice.” Bioedge editor Michael Cook echoed Ingram and Tribunal members adding that “the crisis may have also opened a crack revealing a dark side to Chinese medicine.”

Investigative journalist CJ Werleman pointed out that “China… has a voluntary donor rate of only one for every two million citizens,” and how DAFOH has previously “questioned the authenticity of China’s officially released data.. that can only be explained by a large-scale, forced organ harvesting programme.” Werleman’s concerns that China is also harvesting organs from Uyghur Muslims to meet the demand for lung transplants due to the coronavirus crisis was echoed by The Daily Star, The Sun, and Ourbitcoinnews.

After the Policy Forum on Organ Procurement and Extrajudicial Execution in China, held on March 10th  in Washington DC, award-winning author Matthew Robertson said, “The authorities would say the [lungs] were obviously donated, but one can raise reasonable objections as to whether that was in the least plausible.” Robertson, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, recently authored a report on China’s extrajudicial executions and illegal organ procurement. He deplored how “World governments have not publicly challenged China as to the source of its organs, and international medical and human rights organizations have also failed to raise public concerns as to the scale of the transplant system and the real source of organs.”

Despite the media outcry, critical questions remain. Where did the “donated” lungs transplanted into four Chinese coronavirus patients actually come from?  How were matching lungs found in such a short time?  Given the history of organs on demand in China, the experts agree there is sufficient reason to doubt the organs were from voluntarily donated brain-dead donors. Rather, it is more likely that China is forcibly removing lungs from living prisoners of conscience to transplant into sick coronavirus patients.