BERLIN—“We need to take a stand before our own ethical principles disintegrate,” said physician Dr. Harold King, highlighting an ethical dilemma faced by the medical profession.
A medical advocacy group held a conference in Berlin on July 18, drawing attention to the abuse of organ transplantation by Chinese authorities. Their conference was timed to coincide with The Transplantation Society’s own annual conference, which attracts thousands of surgeons each year, held nearby.
The non-profit Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), of which Dr. King is a member, hosted the panel. Experts discussed illegal and unethical organ procurement practices taking place primarily in China. DAFOH, based in Washington, D.C., has the goal of stopping the practice of illegal organ harvesting in China and other countries.
Arne Schwarz, an independent researcher based in Switzerland and an expert on illegal transplant practices, said that organ transplantation is treated as a state secret in China, which means researchers have to collect their own evidence on the practices.
Chinese authorities as early as 2005 admitted that 90 to 95 percent of organs are derived from executed prisoners, a highly controversial practice. While the exact figures are not fully known, China executes not only the highest number of people in the world, but also carries out the largest number of organ transplants of any country.
For Schwarz, the “ethical credibility of the international transplant community is at stake if it does not make a visible and collective effort to stop this.”
Dr. King, who is from France, called illegal organ harvesting a “terrible contradiction to fundamentals of medicine … which is to save lives and improve the well-being of all.”
King pointed out that China is the only country in the world where almost every kind of organ for every blood type can be attained within two weeks; they even guarantee a fast replacement if necessary.
He is convinced that since 2001, not only criminals sentenced to death are used, but that most organs have been coming from prisoners of conscience, who are not tried by any court and are not convicted. The vast majority are Falun Gong practitioners who are arbitrarily arrested. Many are tortured to death. They are considered healthy and are at the disposal of the state, held in hundreds of thousands in labor camps.
“The official version simply cannot stand,” King said, since the number of transplants every year largely exceeds the number of executions.
“These profound consequences affect us all,” King said.
David Matas, a human rights lawyer based in Canada, was one of the first to demonstrate the evidence underlying the claims of organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience; he also spoke at the panel.
Recently, Matas has co-edited a new book called State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China, which is a collaboration of 12 authors presenting their latest findings.
He believes the practice of illegal organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience originates in the “intersection of hatred and greed.”
He suggests not referring any patients abroad and not training Chinese surgeons in Western hospitals. Additionally, Chinese doctors who cannot guarantee that they are not operating on prisoners should be rejected by their peers; their research should also be kept out of international conferences, he argued.
Change in the medical profession is possible, as demonstrated by Dr. Jacob Lavee. Lavee is a heart transplant surgeon from Israel and member of DAFOH’s Advisory Board. He was not part of the panel, but spoke later.
Largely due to his efforts informing peers about improper organ sourcing practices taking place in China, the Israeli parliament passed a law preventing Israeli insurance companies from reimbursing any kind of transplant abroad.
Ethan Gutmann, adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, based in Washington, D.C., also spoke at the panel. Gutmann is an expert on human rights issues in China and authored the award-winning book “Losing the New China.”
Gutmann has conducted more than 30 interviews with witnesses who have been directly or indirectly involved in illegal organ harvesting in China. He described it as “a crime against all humanity.”
A respected Taiwanese surgeon, for example, told Gutmann “with no small measure of angst” that his patients had been receiving organs from Falun Gong practitioners on the mainland.
Even though there are signs that the harvesting peaked in 2006, he has not seen a clear end to the practice. He calculates that at least 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners had been killed for their organs by 2008.
Gutmann was the first to provide evidence that besides Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Uighurs, and some Christian groups have fallen victim to state-organized killing for organs.
He noted that in November of last year the Chinese authorities announced that they would end organ harvesting from executed prisoners in three to four years. But they said nothing about political prisoners.
Gutmann interprets this development as an attempt by the Chinese authorities to “bury the remaining evidence … in history.”
The Chinese regime’s move is driven by fear that the “Party’s historic crime will be laid bare before the world … and might taint the leadership transition.”
For Gutmann, “only the victims’ families have the right to absolve China of it.”
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