STATEMENT: DAFOH Rejects the Empty Rhetoric of Beijing’s Stage-Managed Conference on China’s Organ Donation

WASHINGTON, October 19, 2016 — Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, an international human rights organization made up of physicians, medical professionals, and patient advocates, said Wednesday that the government of China has once again failed to demonstrate the end of human rights abuses in its organ donor program, despite recent coverage in the Chinese media touting the success of so-called “reforms.”

At a recent Beijing conference on Chinese organ donation processes, held with the support of the China National Organ Donation & Transplant Committee (CNODTC), the International Society for Organ Donation and Procurement (ISODP), The Transplantation Society (TTS), and the World Health Organization (WHO), eminent international doctors allegedly made statements in praise of China’s unsubstantiated reforms. However, no evidence was presented that China now sources all organs for transplantation in an ethical or transparent way.

Doctors from around the world remain skeptical:

  1. China has no law against the use of organs from executed prisoners. The widely proclaimed ban is nothing more than media hype, and transplant leadership at the Beijing conference failed to provide any documentation of a “new transplant law.” In addition, a 1984 provision permitting the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners has not been abolished.
  2. A semantic trick used by China re-classifies harvesting executed prisoners’ as “donations,” dubbed “voluntary citizen donations,” and bypasses international ethical terminology making it impossible to determine the actual source of organs.
  3. Conference attendees reportedly visited pre-selected transplant hospitals in order to “see for themselves” the success of China’s touted reforms. Failing unbiased standards of inspection, claims that “Chinese practice is safe, transparent, and ethical,” per WHO delegate Dr. Jose Nunez, are misleading and premature.
  4. The deterioration in ethical standards of transplant organizations in this case is alarming, and they do not represent the majority of concerned transplant doctors and healthcare professionals worldwide. These organizations have a duty to their members and to the public to maintain independence in their interactions with China in order to retain any credibility. It is deeply disturbing that WHO officers and others blindly champion China’s claims: it is widely known that the Chinese Red Cross Society has openly implemented an unethical system of offering financial incentives to relatives of deceased patients, a practice that is condemned by four of the eleven WHO Guiding Principles on organ transplantation.
  5. Ongoing reports and a mass of evidence concerning China’s dependence on prisoners of conscience as the primary organ source cannot be arbitrarily denied or ignored. Prescheduled hospital tours easily accommodate a temporary halt of organ sourcing from prisoners of conscience for the duration of the inspection time. The delegation did not investigate the existence of this criminal abuse and did not provide a methodology of their investigation on this matter.
  6. It is of concern that the conversion rate, i.e. the actual consent for donation by the relatives of the deceased, has inexplicably jumped an unprecedented 50% within a year. Cultural taboos concerning donation, paired with widespread public distrust in corrupt medical practices, suggests that voluntary donation numbers would fail to increase. Yet, China’s hard to believe transplant figures typically follow an artificial course: from 1999 to 2004, the annual transplant numbers increased from ~3,000 to over 12,000, an increase of 300%. In 2006 to 2007, when China did not have a donation system, the number of living kidney donations increased by 470% within one year. On Dec 31, 2015, the number of registered organ donors increased by precisely 25,000 in one day.
  7. The claim that the “recorded usage of drugs given to transplant patients lined up with China’s reported numbers of transplants” as evidence is misleading and offers no reassurance as drug consumption of transplant tourists who fly in and out of China within days of surgery cannot be accurately assessed. The number of transplants can thus be far larger.

In conclusion: China continues to fail to address acute concerns and evidence brought forward by investigators like David Kilgour, David Matas, Ethan Gutmann and by organizations like Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting and the World Organization for the Investigation of the persecution of Falun Gong. Instead of providing conditions that allow transparent access and independent scrutiny, China used preselected, handpicked individuals from supportive organizations as a shield against real investigation. While delegates in rose-colored glasses applaud China’s claims of reform, real change might happen if China-critical, independent investigators have open access to unscheduled visits in transplant centers.

Reassurance of an end of forced organ harvesting requires completion of a to-do-list: