Statement on China’s plan to phase out organ harvesting from executed prisoners

PRESS RELEASE, November 5, 2012

The November Bulletin of the WHO presents an interview with Dr. Haibo Wang, where he announces China’s intention to phase out the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners. While the announcement marks a shift in China’s handling of the worldwide criticized organ procurement practice, DAFOH is concerned that the announced changes are primarily aimed at appeasing the international community, while the unethical organ transplant abuses will continue in secret..

Dr. Wang claims that “many major transplant countries used organs from executed prisoners”. Upon our inquiry, Prof. Gabriel Danovitch, UCLA, replied: “This statement is misleading. There may have been occasional cases of organ donation after execution in other countries several decades ago. No country other than China ever relied on executed prisoners as their donor source.” Prof. Arthur Caplan, bioethicist of the NYU Langone Medical Center, concurred stating: “Transplant medicine started with living donors and cadaver donation started with regional procurement banks. They did not use prisoners. The statement of Dr. Wang is wrong.”

Dr. Wang states that “the executed prisoners [have the] right to donate organs”, however it is globally acknowledged in the ethical guidelines of all major medical associations, including WMA, WHO and TTS, that prisoners are not in the position to provide free consent, which is the basis of ethical organ procurement. We are concerned that Wang’s statement opens a backdoor for continuation of the previous practice to harvest organs from executed prisoners.

Although the plan to begin phasing out the old organ harvesting system was announced, there was no timeline set for when the 25 year long practice of using organs from executed prisoners will actually end. This requires further attention by the international community.

While Dr. Wang praises the transparency of the announced new organ procurement system, David Matas explains in State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China (2012), when confronted at The Transplantation Congress in Vancouver in August 2010, Dr. Haibo Wang himself upheld China’s secrecy and lack of transparency in his defense of decisions to “shut down public access to the data on the China Liver Transplant Registry website.” There is no indication to assume that the scrutiny of transparency and traceability of the newly announced organ donation program will be any less challenging than the access to the China Liver Transplant Registry in Hong Kong.

The announcement of a new organ donation and transplantation system comes at a time when leaders around the world, including members of the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the Israeli Knesset, and many others have begun to expose China’s unethical organ procurement system which is not limited to prisoners sentenced to death but also extends to detained prisoners of conscience.  Testimony at the U.S. Congressional hearing on September 12, 2012, explained that the number of organ transplants in China has risen exponentially while, according to Amnesty International and other organizations, the number of death sentences and executions has not risen, nor have any other documented source of transplant organs such as voluntary donations. Alongside the sudden rise in organ transplants has been the dramatic increase of prisoners of conscience, the vast majority of which are practitioners of the persecuted belief system Falun Gong. Multiple sources of independent research corroborated by witness testimony have disclosed that Falun Gong practitioners are specifically targeted for medical examination and their organs are harvested on demand. After years of denying its use of executed prisoners as the source for transplant organs, China has since admitted this unethical practice. However, it has not yet admitted to its use of organs from detained prisoners of conscience. Without disclosing the true extent of the source of organs, there is no reason to assume that the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners will phase out as well.

The WHO demands transparency and traceability. Without full disclosure of the organ sources and with a lack for international scrutiny, we remain concerned that the praised organ donation computer system might even be used to enroll detained Falun Gong practitioners under fake identity into the national organ donation system.

To truly ensure that real changes are being implemented in China’s organ transplant system, we call upon the Chinese government to disclose all sources of organs that are used for transplantation and open all registers and allocation systems for scrutiny. This is a necessary and unavoidable step for China to become respected member of the international medical community.

In 1944 the international Red Cross misinterpreted the deadly gas chambers of the Theresienstadt Ghetto as “shower facilities,” a mistake that led to fatal consequences for hundreds of thousands of Jews. We hope the Red Cross Society of China will not make the same mistake leading to fatal consequences for tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners.

We state that the world community must continue to call upon China to immediately halt the forced organ harvesting from executed prisoners, detained prisoners of conscience and Falun Gong practitioners.