On March 2, 2020, Former Health Minister Lord Hunt led calls for individuals connected with organ trafficking and organ harvesting to face sanctions under the proposals for the new UK Magnitsky Act. During a debate in the House of Lords, Hunt referenced a report by the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong that provides details about more than 7,800 doctors from 788 hospitals in China who are suspected of participating in illegal organ transplants in China. The sheer number of medical professionals described in this report highlights the severity of the issue and the magnitude of China’s state-sanctioned, commercial organ harvesting enterprise.
Contributing to the debate, Members of the House pressed Government Ministers on why the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued statements decreeing that in its view, “China is implementing an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system, in accordance with international standards.” Questions were also raised regarding the WHO basing its position on the self-assessment made by a country that is a signatory, in this case, China, as well as the WHO having previously acknowledged concerns regarding the transparency of China’s transplant system.
The WHO issued statements to governments advising them of the ethical nature of China’s organ transplant system both before and after the publication of the China Tribunal’s final judgement on March 1, 2020. The judgement stated, “The Tribunal’s members are certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt – that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims,” and declared that organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs is a crime against humanity.
Given the gravity of the China Tribunal’s final judgement, questions emerged as to how and why China was allowed to conduct its own self-assessment, especially as the WHO has expressed concerns over transparency. During the debate, the international standards expected of an organ transplant system were also discussed. The UK has the Human Tissue Act of 2004 which regulates and governs organ transplant practices, of which prior consent is the founding, fundamental principle. With reports of ongoing illegal organ harvesting in China, both the ethical nature of China’s organ transplant system and the provisions for prior consent are called into question.
Also discussed during the House of Lords debate was how prisoners of conscience in China are forced to undergo DNA testing and the fear this may be a harbinger of subsequent organ harvesting. Concerns surrounding the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs and its connection to forced organ harvesting were echoed in the House of Commons in March during three separate debates about China, religious persecution around the world and the origin of human organs for medical research.