JERUSALEM—On a recent trip to Jerusalem, lawyer and human rights activist David Matas was in town for merely 48 hours, but still made time for an interview after a long day of meetings. His deep well of energy seems to come in part from his enthusiastic commitment to fighting for human rights.
In 2009 Matas, a Canadian, co-authored Bloody Harvest: Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China with David Kilgour, a former Canadian secretary of state. The book was an updated and extended version of a 2006 report under the same title that horrified the world with its revelations of systematic murder for huge profits from organ transplant sales by China’s medical community. Among other revelations, it established the veracity of allegations that disappeared Falun Gong practitioners were being murdered for the price of their organs.
Each year in China 1,000 death row prisoners are killed for their organs … 500 come from Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Eastern Lightning House Christians, and 8,000 come from Falun Gong practitioners.
Illegal organ transplants from donors of unknown origin purchased for huge sums by foreign patients remains a major human rights crisis in China. Without a national system for voluntary organ donation, China mysteriously has a tremendous number of readily available organs for transplant available on demand. According to research done by the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC), of the tens of thousands of organ transplants performed in China annually, records of voluntary donations only number in the hundreds.
That means Matas’s work is far from done.
Having spent the last few years building interest in the subject through “Bloody Harvest” and connecting with professionals in the medical transplant community, Matas published this year a second book on the topic, State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China. He co-edited the book with Dr. Torsten Trey, the founding member and executive director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH). The book is a collection of 12 essays by authors from four continents.
Matas is also the author of other books on topics that include anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, as well as Nazi war criminals in Canada. But his two most recent books on illegal organ harvesting in China target a very specific—and urgent—problem.
“What I found was a real community of concern among the transplant profession,” Matas said of bringing together authors for the essays in his new book. He adds that part of that concern stems from the impact that China’s unethical transplant practices have on the worldwide transplant community’s reputation—sometimes impacting funding efforts.
Matas, who travels frequently for both his work as a lawyer and a human rights activist, says he constantly multi-tasks on different issues he is involved with. He sees publishing the new book on organ harvesting as “another way to get the message across.”
His sense of urgency around the issue is well-founded. According to estimates from research he and others have done, each year in China 1,000 death row prisoners are killed for their organs, 500 transplants come from living donor relatives, 500 come from Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Eastern Lightning House Christians, and 8,000 come from Falun Gong practitioners.
To this end, the book’s essays examine China’s systematic abuse of medicine for illegal organ transplants. It includes pieces by Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at the New York University Langone Medical Center; Jacob Lavee, director of the Heart Transplantation Unit at Sheba Medical Center in Israel; Gabriel Danovitch, Medical Director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at UCLA’s School of Medicine; and more than a dozen others.
One key point Matas wants to make with the new book is that the desire to stop organ harvesting is much bigger than he and his past co-author. “Both David Kilgour and I are not young, (and) are both doing other things,” said Matas. “It [fighting against organ harvesting] cannot rest with us. The message of this book is that the constituency is bigger than us.”
One aim Matas has in continuing to raise the issue is that individual countries will enact legislation to make it either required for doctors to report a patient who got a transplant overseas or for governments to prosecute individuals who got such an operation illegally. So far, attempts at such legislation have been limited, but Israel is one of the few countries where restrictions do exist.
What I found was a real community of concern among the transplant profession.
—David Matas, editor ‘State Organs’
The Israeli Organ Transplant Law forbids transplant tourism (the practice of patients traveling overseas to get organs from foreign donors) from Israel. The law also promotes national self-sufficiency in organ donation. The enactment of the law was a direct result of “Bloody Harvest.”
Today, Matas sees the best place for pressure to come from is inside the transplant profession itself. That includes working on getting the World Medical Association to evict the Chinese Medical Association (CMA). But progress so far is slow, since the CMA consists of every type of medical professional in China, not just those involved in transplants.
“If the transplant professionals in China stopped doing [illegal organ harvesting], that would end it,” he said. “The [transplant] profession [inside and outside of China], through peer pressure, can stop it.”
In the meantime, Matas continues to focus on promoting his new book, which is close to selling out its first print run. He is also encouraging those who read it and others who hear about the issue of organ harvesting in China to “do what they can do.”
“Write a letter, talk to a neighbor, go to a rally,” he said of efforts that individuals can make. “What you’re dealing with is human rights—so you don’t know who it’s going to hit and when.”
As for putting others in the spotlight with his new publication, Matas believes by taking on more on more of a supporting role, it will actually benefit the issue.
“People will say, ‘I saw you on TV, but I can’t remember what you said,'” notes Matas of his work since his 2009 book and the many subsequent congressional hearings, public rallies, and events he took part in to speak on the issue. “Other people need to be involved.”
With additional reporting by Matthew Robertson
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