Taiwan legislation sets a new standard in the combat against rogue organ harvesting practices
While China announced to end unethical organ harvesting from executed prisoners by January 2015, the Taiwanese legislative body have held back their applause and took legislative measures to ensure avoiding collusion with unethical organ harvesting schemes by taking distinct legislative action.
On June 12, 2015, the Taiwanese congress duly passed new amendments to the established Human Organ Transplantation Act (人體器官移植條例) making a far reaching new Organ Trafficking Law, OTL. With this ground-breaking legislation Taiwan has passed one of the most advanced medical transplant laws in the world.
After several years of unshattered efforts, with ongoing investigations, the Taiwan Legislature passed amendments to its original transplant laws banning the sale and purchase of organs for transplantation as a crime against humanity, with a special consideration of the use of organs from executed prisoners in China. The law prohibits the selling, buying and brokering of organs and transplant tourism. The Department of Health will now require major medical institutions and physicians to register the country of all organ sourcing and the hospital information (including surgeon identification) where patients received their organ transplants abroad when they apply for postoperative health insurance payments after returning home.
The China Post reported that patients receiving illegal organ transplants overseas will face a maximum of five years in prison and an NT$300,000. This law supports transparency of foreign organ transplantations and ensures the safety of transplant recipients. The new law should serve as an inspiration to other legislators.
The effect of this law, according to human rights attorney Theresa Chu, spokesperson for the Falun Gong Human Rights Legal Team in Taiwan, is to prohibit the Taiwanese from going to China for organ transplants. The Taipei Times reported that Legislator Hsu Shao Ping of the Kuomintang commented: “Those who harvest organs from living people and sell them for profit are committing a crime against humanity according to International Criminal Law.”
Over the last decade, China’s incredibly short transplant waiting times, days to weeks, have attracted patients from all over the world and given rise to the transplant tourism industry, which in turn has fueled unethical organ procurement practices for high profits on a national scale.
According to the latest data up to 97% of Taiwanese people who seek transplantation abroad travel to China for an organ transplantation. With dire organ shortages, Taiwan registers an average of 100~200 voluntary organ donors per year; however, cases awaiting organ transplant regularly number close to 8,000 annually. Cultural traditions regarding preserving the body after death means voluntary organ donors are rare in Taiwan and China, but the sale of organs forcefully taken from prisoners, and large numbers of unethical organ transplantations, continue unabated in China.
From 2005 to 2011, the Taiwan’s National Health Insurance paid up to 7,734,540,000 NT dollars for postoperative anti-rejection drugs. The frequency of medical complications and endemic diseases in post-transplant patients returning from China, hepatitis and TB infections in particular, has been costly and significant.
China’s persistence in offering unsolicited cross straights organ trading deals with Taiwan in early 2015 has been business as usual, and was met with full resistance by Taiwanese doctors and human rights lawyers. Unethical organ transplants in China have continued despite international pressure. According to a report in Taiwan media, China Times (June 7, 2015) the Chinese government, under international pressure to end forced organ harvesting from prisoners and detained prisoners of conscience, like the Falun Gong, claims “permission” is now needed from death row convicts only, another gross ethical violation worldwide.
It has been observed in Taiwan that organ prices in China skyrocketed in 2015. This may be a consequence of a reduced number of organs reported by China using the assumed decrease in organ availability in 2015 as a reason, or just a marketing strategy to push prices up targeting wealthy patients. Latest announcements by Huang Jiefu present this year’s outlook for transplantations in China with estimated 12,000 transplants in 2015, contradicting the assumed decrease in organs, but rather expose the business strategy behind this effort.
The Taiwanese Department of Health now has legal grounds to request organ transplant recipients register where they received a transplant organ abroad after returning home for necessary, and expensive, postoperative healthcare. This will be a powerful deterrent to organ recipients getting their organ transplants from unknown sources, especially unethical organ sources, as unknowing accomplices in illegal organ harvesting. Prior to this, after returning to Taiwan from abroad, recipients still had the benefits of national health insurance and received payments for anti-rejection drugs regardless. This was a significant problem in the prior legislation.
Transplant physicians must comprehend the legal requirements and current status of human organ transplantation globally in order to play a positive role in increasing organ donations in their respective countries and in protecting patients from unwitting collusion. A win-win situation for healthcare providers and patients results when patient safety is the cornerstone of transplant medicine.
Among other measures, the following amended provisions were accepted and enacted into law:
Article 12 and 16: A 1-5 year criminal sentence will be imposed against any broker, organ trader and or individual involved in organ tourism, within Taiwan, or outside of Taiwan, with extra-territorial jurisdiction. If doctors engage in organ brokerage, their license will be canceled.
If an organ transplant is done abroad, patients are now required to file a report with the Taiwan hospital where they receive aftercare disclosing the country, hospital and the organ transplanted. The hospital will be fined for failing to secure this information.
The previous Taiwanese law, which permitted the using of organs from executed prisoners, has been abolished.