Medical professionals and advocates are calling on their global transplantation societies to stop collaboration and ban transplant-related research papers from China, citing concerns over the human rights atrocity of forced organ harvesting.
The appeal followed a first-of-its-kind restriction issued by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT), a nonprofit transplantation association. The group announced in late August that it would stop accepting organ transplantation research from China, in an effort to end the transplant abuse reportedly breeding under the oversight of the communist regime.
The team, led by British kidney transplant surgeon Dr. Adnan Sharif, welcomed the decision in an article published in The Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation on Sept. 22.
“The ISHLT has firmly aligned itself to these ethical principles, which we applaud, and implore others to follow their principled lead,” wrote the three authors.
“While international exchange of knowledge, skills and expertise has been a valued hallmark of organ donation and transplantation, collaboration with a transplant program stained with credible evidence of unethical transplant practice that amount[s] to crimes against humanity in relation to organ donor sources,” they wrote.
An independent people’s tribunal in 2019 concluded that forced organ harvesting has been conducted in China for years “on a significant scale,” with the imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners being a primary organ source as they are persecuted in their millions by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline consisting of meditation exercises and moral teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, has been brutally banned by the CCP since 1999. Adherents of the practice have been thrown into prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers, where many have been tortured in an effort to force them to renounce their faith.
After yearlong investigations, the tribunal, also known as the China Tribunal, concluded that the Chinese regime has committed crimes against humanity, and stated that governments and international bodies “must do their duty” concerning the finding.
“Engagement therefore poses grave risks for transplantation institutions, groups, and societies of complicity in atrocity crimes and subsequent legal prosecution,” the three medical ethics advocates wrote. The article is co-authored by Dr. Sheldon Stone, a member of advocacy group World Uyghur Congress, and Susie Hughes, executive director of transplant ethics advocacy group The International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China.
Official Data ‘Cannot Be Trusted’
The Chinese regime claimed in 2015 that it would cease sourcing organs from executed prisoners, and exclusively rely on a newly set up voluntary donation system.
Sharif and other researchers, however, have challenged the regime’s claims, raising concerns after recent investigations cast doubt on the veracity of China’s official statistics on donation and transplant activities.
They referred to a 2019 study published in the scientific journal BMC Medical Ethics that found “Beijing’s reported organ donation numbers don’t stack up and there is highly compelling evidence that they are being falsified.”
The conclusion is based on a review of China’s official data on voluntary hospital-based donated organs between 2010 and 2018, which was published by the China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS) and Red Cross Society of China.
In addition, a separate report, published in February 2019 in the medical journal BMJ, identified that 440 out of 445 Chinese medical papers failed to clarify whether individuals had given consent to donate their body parts. The study is based on an analysis of papers published in English-language peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2017 using research involving organ transplants in mainland China.
Call for Action
In 2021, 12 United Nations Special Rapporteurs and human rights experts said in a joint statement that they were “extremely alarmed by reports of Beijing harvesting organs from imprisoned minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Christians.”
Sharif has urged medical journals to decline publishing research papers about organ translation from Beijing.
“Given credible allegations, and absence of evidence to the contrary, can we be sure that Chinese practice conforms to international law and ethical norms? If not, research linked to unethical transplantation is itself unethical,”Sharif wrote in an opinion piece published in 2021.
In August, ISHLT updated its policy regarding transplant ethics.
“Given the body of evidence that the government of the People’s Republic of China stands alone in continuing to systematically support the procurement of organs or tissue from executed prisoners, submissions related to transplantation and involving either organs or tissue from human donors in the People’s Republic of China will not be accepted by ISHLT,” the organization said, referring to China’s official name.
In their latest call to uphold the ethical pillars supporting the profession, Sharif and his co-authors cautioned professionals against training visiting physicians or surgeons who could use the gained knowledge in “transplants based on organs from executed prisoners or any other transplant related crime” in their home countries.
“We believe this is a bold step that underlines the ethical integrity of the society and call upon other transplantation groups to follow this lead,” Sharif and the other two experts concluded.
Eva Fu, Frank Fang, and Cathy He contributed to the report.