Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Seventy years ago, at the Doctors’ Trial held in Nuremberg after World War II, United States Chief Justice Jackson said, “We are about to judge and penalize various crimes which are carefully planned, and so evil in nature. Their devastating consequences are so great. Therefore, the civilized world must not take a laissez-faire attitude because if these crimes are to repeat in the future, human civilization will cease to exist.”
Today, we find ourselves at a tipping point. The People’s Republic of China has long utilized its vast medical transplant industry to generate obscene profits by plundering the bodies of its own citizens. No one in the world, especially those in the medical profession, can continue to turn a blind eye or deaf ear and remain silent. Hollow words from a nearly century-old propaganda machine attempting to re-write history cannot be accepted. (1)
From the 2016 International Congress of the Transplantation Society in Hong Kong and the International Organ Donation Conference in Beijing to the 2017 Vatican Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism and the recent Annual China Transplant Physician Society Meeting and the Donation and Transplantation Institute’s Educational Program in Kunming, there has been a worrisome shift towards accepting the Chinese regime’s claims that reform of its organ transplant industry are ethically based.
The Chinese press release (2) in July during the run-up to last month’s Kunming conference was widely spread not only by the state-run Chinese media (3) but also by the Western media. (4) Gratefully, there are reporters (5) who question China’s claims. They acknowledge the decades long condemnation of China’s practice of harvesting organs from unwilling political prisoners and mentions eyewitness reports that “prisoners of conscience continue to experience medical testing consistent with organ donation searches and China continues to profit from the practice.” (6) This article also cites evidence that hundreds of Chinese hospitals conduct transplants without official government certification and that regional transplant surgery statistics are not publicized.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a flurry of reports (7) that China plans to soon achieve world supremacy in transplantation medicine. Yet all evidence indicates that China can only surpass the rest of the world by expanding of its currently unethical system.
Ethical transplantation systems must have in place well organized free and voluntary organ donation mechanisms with full transparent and traceable organ procurement, allocation and distribution procedures. Since its inception, human organ transplantation in China has not been based on internationally accepted ethical principles. Decades of transplant abuse cannot be erased by empty promises and platitudes.
What would Chief Justice Jackson say today about the Chinese regime’s use of the medical profession to conduct their campaign of genocide, which violates the core ethics of human civilization? It is a grievous mistake to applaud touted reforms that only serve to cover up crimes against humanity. We must all speak out now to stop this atrocity or risk being forever condemned by future generations in the annals of history.
Ann F. Corson, MD
China’s Façade of Propaganda at Kunming Hoodwinks Medical Professionals
In August, many international transplantation physicians, organ procurement specialists, representatives from the World Health Organization and the Vatican, distinguished international faculty and experts from Spain, Europe and America condoned and applauded both the Annual China Transplant Physician Society Meeting and the Donation and Transplantation Institute’s Educational Program in Kunming, China. The presence of and recognition by these myriad organizations and professionals have been touted in the Chinese media as evidence that China’s organ transplant practices have been widely acknowledged throughout the world as having met internationally accepted ethical standards.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The well-intentioned professionals who gathered in Kunming have been woefully misled. The supposed reforms China professes to have made are nothing more than diversionary tactics. Such premature praise from international organizations enables the Chinese transplant community to conduct business as usual while attempting to cover up and erase decades of grossly unethical and illegal transplant practices. Failing to confirm that real reforms have indeed occurred allows the killing of innocents for organs to continue unabated and blocks the victims and their families from seeking justice.
China’s alleged reforms are nothing but empty words
* Organs from executed prisoners are no longer being used
As spokesperson for China’s organ transplant system, Huang Jiefu announced that China would discontinue the use of organs from executed prisoners on January 1, 2015. That announcement has no legal foundation and cannot be found in any official government policy statement or law. The State Council’s Human Organ Transplant Ordinance of March 2007 did not abolish the Provisional Regulations of 1984, which allows the sourcing of organs from executed prisoners without consent. The 1984 regulations remain in effect today. Additionally, in 2015, Huang was quoted in several newspaper interviews saying that prisoners would henceforth be treated as citizens with the “right” to donate organs. Ostensibly, this means that organs sourced from prisoners will be listed as voluntarily public donations.
* All organs come from voluntary donations
A long held belief among the Chinese people is that their bodies should remain intact after death. Centuries of cultural aversion to organ donation do not disappear in a few years. There was no organ donation system in China before 2010, and the national organ donation system did not begin until 2013. By the end of 2015, China’s trial organ donation and allocation system still had not produced a meaningful number of donations. Huang Jiefu indicated in an interview with Beijing Youth Daily in November 2015 that the organ donation system in China does not function in practice because the two most important organ donation organizations, the Red Cross and the National Planning Commission, do not actually coordinate with each other. In 2015, the few donation centers that answered phone calls made by investigators from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong indicated that few people had actually registered to donate and the number of successful donations was extremely low. China’s officially published donor numbers showing sudden spikes in two consecutive yearsshould provoke serious mistrust of official statistics.
A wide variety of sources indicate that death row executions in China have decreased over the last two decades, while during the same period, the number of organ transplants has grown exponentially. In 2013, the Director of Hepatobiliary Surgery at Peking University People’s Hospital said, “Our hospital conducted 4,000 liver and kidney transplant operations within a particular year, and all of the organs are from death-row prisoners.” Considering that many death row prisoners have illnesses that render them unsuitable candidates for organ donation, how likely is it that there were sufficient numbers of executions to supply a single transplant hospital with organs for 4,000 transplants?
Inefficiency in distribution and transportation of organs procured for transplant has been a significant problem in China, with transport delays resulting in significant organ loss. Huang Jiefu admitted in May 2016 that twenty percent of all transported organs are wasted in route.
Given such low voluntary donation rates, decreasing death row execution rates and inefficient organ transport, how could China have enough donors and viable organs for the 13,000 transplantation surgeries reportedly performed in 2016?
* Between 10,000 and 13,000 transplants are performed annually in China
Transplantation is a lucrative business in China. Transplant surgeries, antirejection drugs and peri-operative care comprise major income sources for many hospitals. Consequently, hospitals have underreported transplant numbers to avoid taxation on substantial profits. Such widespread practices prompted the Chinese Ministry of Health to issue regulations in 2009 and 2010 that enact harsh penalties for hospitals that underreport transplant numbers. This calls into question the accuracy of any and all officially reported government transplant numbers.
In 2006, the newly completed Tianjin First Central Hospital’s Oriental Transplant Center had 700 beds dedicated to transplantation surgery. The center’s bed utilization rates reached 90% in 2009 and 131% in 2013 with the ability to simultaneously conduct nine liver and eight kidney transplants. Based on bed counts, 100% utilization rates and 3 to 4 week hospital stays for liver transplants, the center could perform between 6,000 to 8,000 transplants each year.
Persecution of Falun Gong continues unabated
The exponential rise of organ transplant surgery in China began shortly after the onset of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Falun Gong in 1999. It has been reported that not only did the Chinese Ministry of Public Security order the eradication of Falun Gong but added that “no law regulates the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners,” and “deaths of Falun Gong practitioners from beating are nothing and shall be counted as suicide; the bodies shall be directly cremated without investigating the person’s identification.”
A 2009 Tianjin Medical Journal study analyzed 1,600 liver procurement surgeries performed between 2004 and 2008 at the Tianjin Organ Transplant Center. Livers were primarily obtained from young, healthy males with an average age of 34.5 years. The center’s director, Shen Zhongyang, created a surgical procedure for extracting livers from “no-heartbeat cadavers” with warm ischemia time of five minutes or less. The livers described in this study could only have come from living people, turned into “no-heartbeat cadavers” during the process of organ extraction. It is impossible to achieve a warm ischemia time of five minutes or less when sourcing organs from cadavers. Transplant surgeons throughout China have adopted Zhongyang’s procedure.
In a recent interview, DAFOH’s Executive Director Dr. Torsten Trey said, “If reforms are praised while the hidden forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and prisoners of conscience continues, then we find this devastating situation where this applause resounds while innocent people are slaughtered for their organs.”
International human rights lawyer David Matas noted
The Chinese Communist Party for years has been killing en masse prisoners of conscience for their organs. The evidence in support of this crime is detailed, consistent, verifiable, corroborated and unrefuted. Most of the information on which the conclusions are based comes directly from official Chinese sources. … The overwhelming majority of the victims have been practitioners of the spiritually based set of exercises Falun Gong. But there have also been many Tibetan, Uighur and House Christian victims. The global psychiatric profession, at the time of Soviet abuse of psychiatry, was part of the solution to that abuse. The global transplantation profession, with a few notable exceptions, when it comes to transplantation abuse in China, has, regrettably, become part of the problem…One can only hope that a willingness to confront the truth about China will prevail generally in the transplantation profession before many other innocents are killed for their organs. “
Recent international actions call for the end of China’s transplant crimes
On April 15, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report
. The report measures how various countries fare on human rights in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The act stipulates that the US will represent and defend “liberty and [stand] with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus, including diplomatic, political, commercial, charitable, educational, and cultural channels, to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples.” The 2016 report references
the Chinese government’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, who make up the largest persecuted group in the nation.
In response to the report and Tillerson’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attacked the US for being unfair
, “Everyone has seen that the facts prove the United States is not totally perfect,” she exclaimed, citing recent tensions after violent protests in Charlottesville, VA. The US, she added, should “respect the facts and properly manage its own affairs, and stop using the wrong means of the so-called religious freedom issue to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”
In June, Minnesota State Senator Jim Abeler drafted an open letter to President Xi Jinping
urging him to end the persecution of Falun Gong in China. In his letter, signed by 103 Minnesota State House Members and State Senators and copied to President Donald Trump, Abeler cites recent research on China’s forced organ harvesting practices. He writes: “In spite of a large and growing body of evidence regarding forced organ harvesting in China, the Chinese transplant community continues to operate in secrecy and the sourcing of organs is not conducted in an open and transparent fashion, as required by World Health Organization standards…[G]iven the nature and scope of this crime against humanity, we feel it is important for you to openly condemn the practice. Such a significant contribution will be remembered.”
At the hearing, committee members viewed a short documentary exposing China’s forced organ harvesting by Irish filmmaker and Falun Gong practitioner Pádraig Ó Dálaigh. He interviewed renowned human rights lawyer David Matas, whose research on China’s transplant program earned him and co-researcher David Kilgour a 2010 Noble Peace Prize nomination.
Matas, who also testified at the hearing, argued that the Chinese government needs to make its transplant registries publicly available and grant independent external investigators access to hospital patient and organ donor files. In addition, he suggested that the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed to visit Chinese prisons.
Dr. Conall O’Seaghdha, Medical Director of the National Kidney Transplant Service in Ireland, spoke about confirmed cases of Irish patients going to China to obtain organs and returning to China to receive follow up care.
UK human rights advocate Benedict Rogers, a tireless defender for many persecuted groups in Asia, was featured recently for his work on China’s forced organ harvesting practices. Rogers highlighted China’s transplantation crimes in a report published in 2016. The report was written on behalf of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, an organization that he co-founded. In discussing the challenges of researching forced organ harvesting, Rogers stated, “It’s one of the hardest human rights issues to be involved with.”
Five UK Parliament members proposed a motion on July 12th calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong and forced organ harvesting in China. The motion expresses “concern that without a system of transparency and traceability in place, organs from executed prisoners, including from many thousands of Falun Gong practitioners who are prisoners of conscience, may still be used in this manner.” The motion has a total of 15 signatures.
Australian lawmakers are looking into ways to address forced organ harvesting crimes. Current legislation concerning transplantation includes stipulations that ensure ethical practices are met within the country’s borders, but no legal guidelines exist to address extraterritorial crimes. Consequently, an Australian citizen who has obtained an organ overseas by illegal means cannot be charged with a crime. One option being considered by the Human Rights Sub-Committee is for Australia to join as a signatory of the 2014 European Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.
Many countries, including Australia, have found that it can be a political hazard to challenge China on its illicit transplantation practices. When questioned about reports of forced organ harvesting, Chinese consulates have threatened other nations not to interfere or their relations with China will sour.
An Australian honorary professor from the Centre for Values Ethics & the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney has been speaking out about organ harvesting. Paul Macneill first learned about China’s transplant crimes after watching the 2015 documentary Hard to Believe.Shocked by the scale of the abuses, he equated them to medical crimes committed by the Nazis. “I felt stunned after seeing this documentary; I felt as though I was downwind from the smoke stacks at Auschwitz. I have walked past Falun Gong practitioners quietly protesting at several international conferences that I have attended in the last 10 years. I have not stopped to talk with them, because I found the claims Hard to Believe!” The full text of his comments and list of evidence he cites can be found at http://endorganpillaging.org/professor-paul-macneill-martin-place-sydney/
Professor Macneill is currently a committee member for The International Coalition to End Organ Pillaging in China, a multidisciplinary organization devoted to educating the public on China’s forced organ harvesting crimes.
For the past five years, DAFOH has been circulating a petition to the UN
urging the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate and help end forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China. More than 2.5 million people
have signed the petition, making it the second largest civil petition in world history
On July 20, a DAFOH delegation of doctors and lawyers hand delivered the DAFOH petitions to the United Nations in Geneva. In addition to requesting action on forced organ harvesting in China, the petition requests an immediate end to the 18-year persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, the primary victims of China’s illicit transplant practices. DAFOH is asking the UN Human Rights Council to create a commission dedicated exclusively to ongoing objective investigations into China’s transplant medicine and organ donation system.
The UN has taken some initial steps towards addressing forced organ harvesting in China. In 2012, representatives from the NGO International Educational Development spoke about forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners at the UN Human Rights Council meeting. In 2014, at the UN’s headquarters in Geneva, Canada’s human rights adviser to the UN, Anne-Tamara Lorre, set a precedent during the Interactive Dialogue on Freedom of Religion when she acknowledged reports of unethical organ harvesting in China. Her comments prompted responses from specific countries and staunch denials by Chinese regime authorities who categorically rejected her comments.
Multiple sources of evidence for extensive forced organ harvesting, including eyewitness accounts and reports of implausible transplant numbers, made it clear to DAFOH that the Chinese state is involved in a massive program of killing on demand for organs. After repeated failures by the Chinese government to verify reform of the nation’s nefarious transplantation practices, DAFOH initiated the petition to the UN High Commissioner in 2012, recognizing that only international action would prompt real change in China.
The success of the petition is the result of strong support by volunteers around the globe who agree that China must not be granted immunity from human rights abuses.
Echoes of Nuremberg: 70th anniversary of the Doctors’ Trials
On August 20th 1947, the Doctors’ Trial, officially termed the United States versus Karl Brandt et al. , passed judgment on 23 Nazi defendants (of whom 20 were doctors) at Nuremberg who were indicted on charges which included war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or membership of a criminal organization (1). Sitting before a US military tribunal, the trials collectively were known as the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials and were heard at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. While the Nuremberg Trials examined war crimes, they also defined crimes against humanity not limited to wartime including; murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape and other inhumane acts committed against any civilians or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds (whether or not in violation of the domestic laws of the country where perpetrated).
The Doctors’ Trials demonstrated the medical profession was not immune from perversion of their knowledge and skills for political or ideological ends. The upcoming 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg judgment should remind medical professionals of their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm or use their medical knowledge for harmful practices including medical experiments. So seventy years on we ask the difficult question: did the Nuremberg Trials fail?
There is indisputable and mounting evidence of active involvement from Chinese doctors in the harvesting of organs from convicted death row prisoners and prisoners of conscience such as Falun Gong practitioners (2-4). This heinous practice of killing the most vulnerable for their profitable body parts has persisted for decades and, despite Chinese claims of reform and modernization (5), lacks evidence of cessation (6, 7). Seventy years on from Nuremberg, doctors are complicit again in a systematic crime against humanity.
The assertion that domestic laws cannot give absolution when it comes to crimes against humanity cannot be taken for granted. For example, it is not a view shared by Chinese transplant experts who maintain; ” …cooperation within international academic circles can only carry on through scrupulously abiding by mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and non-interference with each other’s internal affairs (8).” This errantly implies respect for sovereignty trumps international ethical standards but this assertion is false. The Nuremberg trials established the precedent that crimes against humanity do not require prior domestic law; some acts can be regarded as criminal per se. Killing prisoners to harvest their organs is such an act.
The Nuremberg Trials against Nazi physicians made it clear: regardless of a legally binding framework or not, there is an irrevocable line in ethics and human rights, with accountability for medical professionals who cross it. Individual doctors cannot hide behind national regulations for acts defined internationally as crimes against humanity. Disturbingly, the doctors who supported the Chinese organ donation/transplantation system during these decades of criminal activity, and even participated in unethical transplants personally, are now among those leading the new alleged, but unverifiable, ethical system. It appears we are at a similar stage to 1943 when the Polish World War II resistance fighter Jan Karski found himself testifying before Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1943: there was a disbelief of crimes simply because they were beyond what one could imagine (9).
The Doctor’s Trials against the Nazi physicians considered the testimonies of only 85 witnesses. Yet no international body has heard the testimonies of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience who have been detained in China and have experienced medical abuses, many who reported their experiences in writing or verbally after escaping China. Ignorance or denial cannot excuse crimes against humanity. China’s recent announcements of an end to organ harvesting from executed prisoners and the foundation of a dubious ‘voluntary’ donor system miss the point. Firstly, there is ample evidence that this heinous practice continues despite repeated claims to the contrary. Secondly, the focus of concern should be on the victims and their allegations (which are supported by a decade of independent investigation). In promising reform, China has neither addressed these concerns by offering redress or reconciliation to the families of those killed, nor allowed independent investigation in the absence of full disclosure.
Seventy years after the Nuremberg Trials against Nazi doctors, it is time to hear testimonies of those recently persecuted, physically tortured, medically examined and threatened with organ harvesting in detention camps by Chinese doctors. They are the final echoes of those killed for organs taken by doctors whose oath should be to protect, not take, life. The commemoration of this 70th anniversary of the Doctors Trials provides lessons yet to be fully learned. It has never been more crucial for the medical profession to confront crimes against humanity. In this, as in all violations of human rights, silence is complicity. The judgment passed seventy years ago on doctors engaged in crimes against humanity is as relevant now to China as it was in 1947 for Germany.
1. Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. I-II. October 1946-April 1949. Washington: USGPO. Vols. I-II.
2. Sharif A, Fiatarone Singh M, Trey T, Lavee J. Organ procurement from executed prisoners in China. Am J Transplant 2014; 14: 2246-52
3. Trey T, Sharif A, Schwarz A, Singh MF, Lavee J. Transplant Medicine in China: Need for Transparency and International Scrutiny Remain. Am J Transplant 2016; 16: 3115-3120
4. Rogers WA, Robertson MP, Lavee J. Engaging with China on organ transplantation. BMJ 2017; 356: j665
5. Huang JF, Zheng SS, Liu YF, et al. China organ donation and transplantation update: the Hangzhou Resolution. Hepatobiliary Pancreat Dis Int 2014; 13: 122-4
6. Trey T, Sharif A, Singh Fiatarone M, Khalpey Z, Lavee J. Organ transplantation in China: concern remains. Lancet 2015; 385: 854
7. Lavee J, Jha V. Organ transplantation in China: concerns remain. Lancet 2015; 385: 855
8. The transplant experts of the National Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee, Huang JF, Wang HB, et al. Advances in China’s Organ Transplantation Achieved with the Guidance of Law. Chinese Medical Journal 2015; 128: 143-146
Dr. Torsten Trey, DAFOH’s Executive Director, was recently interviewed about the Chinese government’s claims of organ transplantation reform . Dr. Trey noted that the Chinese government has historically sought to obfuscate the entire state-run transplantation infrastructure so official statements cannot be trusted. The only way to ensure ethical compliance, he argued, is independent investigations.
In an interview with Catholic Weekly two people who escaped from China to Australia tell personal stories of how their family members who practice Falun Dafa were persecuted and blood tested twice while in detention. When asked what is the greatest fear for their family members still in China, without hesitation, one replied, “organ harvesting.”
Former political prisoners detail ongoing human rights atrocities in China
Last year, News.com.au
interviewed Chinese refugees who had been imprisoned in China for their spiritual beliefs. All reported having been subjected to torture and medical testing while in prison and suspected others were killed for organs. One transplant recipient told PBS NewsHour
, “They called these people [prisoners of conscience] the living dead. You just haven’t died yet, but you’re gone.” Independent researchers say China is the number one destination for transplant tourism and home to the most rampant illegal organ trade in the world.
Prague’s district mayor Cizinsky wants to bury dead bodies from the controversial exhibit “Body: The Exhibition.” He is invoking an ordinance dictating that corpses found in the city be buried with all necessary speed and prohibits public display of the deceased without their prior written permission. Traveling exhibits of plasticized bodies, suspected to be executed Chinese prisoners of conscience killed for their organs, have been banned in France, Israel, Hawaii, Seattle, WA and elsewhere.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo died in state custody when denied necessary medical treatment. The Chinese regime blatantly ignored international appeals for Liu, so what fate awaits countless less well-known prisoners of conscience? Since 2015, there has been an unprecedented crackdown on human rights lawyers, activists, their relatives and colleagues. Liu’s tragic demise highlights the ongoing human rights crisis in China.
Thousands of people marched in the streets of Taipei protesting the t reatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Some also staged mock acts of torture and a scene of Chinese doctors harvesting the organs of Falun Gong practitioners. Since 1994, three major peaceful demonstrations have been held in Taiwan each year.
The director of Fortis Retrieval and Transplant in India explores the significant challenges surrounding organ donation in children, including taking steps to improve national guidelines for the diagnosis of brain death. Most of India’s programs are based on living donors while the majority of organ transplants in the world are done from deceased donors after brain death.
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Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting
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Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) aims to provide the medical community and society with objective findings of unethical and illegal organ harvesting. Organ harvesting, the removal of organs from a donor, without free and voluntary consent, is considered a crime against humanity, as well as a threat to the integrity of medical science in general. This edition of our newsletter offers up-to-date information on international efforts to stop unethical organ harvesting.