Parliamentarian pressures University of Sydney to revoke honorary professorship
for Chinese official on ethical grounds
NSW Parliament Member David Shoebridge is investigating the ethical implications of the University of Sydney’s decision to renew an honorary professorship awarded to Dr. Huang Jiefu, head of China’s newly established, but controversial, transplantation program. The university has been struggling to resolve controversy over the award since 2013 (LINKS), when medical school faculty, students, and local lawmakers asked school administrators to reconsider their position. At the heart of the issue is the ethics of procuring organs for transplant from executed prisoners.
In a 2013 interview, Huang disclosed that he personally performed 500 liver transplants at a time when more than 90% of organs came from prisoners, actions that many believe should have disqualified him from receiving one of the highest honors bestowed by the university. He also admitted to participating in procuring organs from a death row prisoner despite international medical standards forbidding the practice. In an ABC interview from 2013, Huang defended the practice and asked “why do you object [to taking organs from executed prisoners]?”
The University of Sydney is in a difficult position. Many colleges, universities, and healthcare facilities across the globe, like the University of Sydney, depend heavily on student tuition and have benefited from admission of international students. With nearly a quarter of its medical school students fully subsidized by the Chinese government, any decision that would offend Chinese officials would have severe financial repercussions for the university.
For over a decade, the Chinese government has been on the defensive about the unethical practices central to its booming transplant industry, threatening financial sanctions on those who would expose its transgressions. Huang himself, by frequently gaining the confidence of prominent overseas institutions, has been at the forefront of this public relations effort to deflect international scrutiny.
Shoebridge’s investigation has helped to expose the facts and clarify the moral implications of Huang’s actions to those who have been misled by the Chinese official’s public relations efforts. He is not alone, as parliamentarians, medical professionals and organizations around the world continue to call for an end to China’s unethical organ procurement practices, with many institutions seeking to distance themselves from China’s transplant industry.