No rule of law in China: Transplant tourism flourishes despite law prohibiting it
The case of profound illness in a young man from Malaysia and the love and concern of his prominent family has recently called attention to the deep seated anxiety that afflicts patients and families awaiting organs for transplantation and the desperation that can drive them to survive. The case also draws attention to the ongoing problem of illegal organ procurement and transplant tourism in China: December 2014, on the eve of new announcements to end the organ harvesting from executed prisoners, this prominent foreign patient received a full liver transplant in Mainland China; after waiting only one month for a matching organ.
China takes advantage of such vulnerable patients. Under global condemnation for its barbaric forced organ harvesting practices, the country has been quick to appease growing international awareness and declare unverified reform. Huang Jiefu, the director of China’s organ donation program, announced to end organ harvesting from executed prisoners in December 2014. He did not include in his statements the large numbers of organs procured from prisoners of conscience believed to be primarily Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
In the same month of the announcement, the prominent Malaysian patient received his liver transplant at the hospital where Huang Jiefu used to work, at the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun-Yat-Sen University in Guangdong. The patient and family then returned home. A 2007 law in China prohibits transplant tourism, making it a criminal offense to provide transplant surgeries to foreigners.
This high profile case illuminates a nefarious ethical breach: Huang Jiefu condemned “bad doctors” in China for performing profitable black market style organ transplants for foreigners, and assured the world that China was well on its way to the “sunlight.” Yet, in his own backyard—the hospital where he used to work for many years—a matching organ was found and transplanted within a month, and thus bypassed the 2007 transplant tourism law.
While China presents itself to the international transplant community as prohibiting transplant tourism, it actually is a flourishing market, not in the rural areas, but even in the prominent hospitals. The case of the royal patient from Malaysia receiving a liver within a month raises many questions. If Chinese patients are waiting for a liver transplant, why are international transplant tourists treated with priority? And how could a matching liver be provided within such a short window of time?