The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences has run into controversy for inviting a speaker linked to forced organ harvesting in China to present the regime’s narrative at the Vatican’s Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism on Feb. 7 and 8.
The summit was held in hopes of addressing the problems of organ trafficking and transplant tourism, but researchers of forced organ harvesting claimed it could end up giving the worst perpetrator of forced organ harvesting a propaganda victory.
Dr. Huang Jiefu, the Chinese regime’s official spokesman on organ transplantation, represented China at the summit. He has claimed that voluntary civilian organ donors were China’s only “legitimate source” of organ transplantation since the regime declared officially that it had stopped using organs from executed prisoners. “This is the whole story,” Huang said.
During the summit on Feb. 7, Huang presented only two slides to defend China from accusations of rampant organ harvesting from prisoners. One slide reflected an increase in the number of organ donors in recent years, and the other on the Chinese regime’s efforts to police black market activity.
Following Huang’s presentation, Dr. Jacob Lavee, president of Israel’s transplant society, insisted that an “appropriate international body with the power” be allowed to conduct surprise inspections and interview donor relatives in China.
Lavee also pointed to the fact that the executed prisoners China has pledged to stop using for transplants are not only death row criminals.
“The term ‘executed prisoners’ obscures the distinction between individuals sentenced to death by the Chinese criminal justice system … and prisoners of conscience killed extra judicially,” said Lavee.
“This source of organs is excluded from discussion with Chinese officials, because discussing the matter is labeled ‘demonizing China’ with ‘fabricated evidence.’ As long as there is no honesty and accountability for what took place—the killing of innocents on demand—there can be no guarantee of actual ethical reform.”
Huang’s colleague, Dr. Haibo Wang said that he and Huang have spent the past 12 years battling to reform the sector, and said China shouldn’t be singled out for spot WHO inspections. No other country in the world has faced similar accusations of mass organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
Huang’s claims, amid mounting evidence of forced organ harvesting, had organ harvesting researchers calling for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to offer a balance of evidence at the summit and challenge China on claims it has reformed its organ sourcing practices.
Huang is one of China’s leading living transplant surgeons and the chairman of China’s National Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee. His high-profile public demonstration of a complicated liver transplant, in the westernmost province of Xinjiang in 2005, drew attention to the ability of Chinese hospitals to source organs on demand.
The day before, he telephoned hospitals in Chongqing and Guangzhou for two extra, matching livers.
The livers were delivered within 24 hours of Huang’s call, but were never used, according to four reports published by Chinese media outlets connected to the regime.
The Chinese regime claims that organs come from executed prisoners, whose sentences must be carried out within seven days, according to Chinese law. Huang could have obtained fresh organs only if there was a captive, pre-blood-typed population ready to be killed on demand, experts say. That prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners, are the source of these organs is the conclusion made most recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as a number of researchers.
Meanwhile, in an email exchange with the chair of an NGO that seeks to end organ harvesting in China, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, was dismissive toward allegations about China’s organ harvesting and about Huang’s role as the regime’s frontman on the issue.
The Vatican summit was an “academic exercise and not a reprise of contentious political assertions,” he wrote on Jan. 10, in a response to Wendy Rogers, a professor of clinical ethics at Macquarie University and chair of the International Advisory Committee of the International Coalition to End Organ Pillaging in China.
Certain key organ harvesting researchers had participated in “political events on the condemnation of China” such as a U.S. congressional hearing and at the European Parliament, he wrote.
Rogers disagreed. “To simply say that the evidence is ‘political assertions’ masks the real issue, avoids the truth, and provides support to those who have the strongest reasons to deny their crimes,” she wrote in response.
Three researchers—former Canadian Member of Parliament David Kilgour, Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, and American investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann—began looking into allegations of forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in the early 2000s.
Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that was practiced by 70 million to 100 million Chinese citizens by 1999, according to official estimates, when it was targeted for persecution by the Chinese regime.
After interviewing practitioners formerly interned in Chinese labor camps, examining official government data, and speaking with Chinese doctors and prison guards, the researchers concluded that the Chinese regime sustained a brisk organ transplantation industry for over a decade by harvesting the organs of Uyghurs, Tibetans, house Christians, and primarily a massive prison population of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
“It is extremely concerning when highly respected international institutions such as the Vatican provide a platform for perpetrating unverified claims about reform of organ donation in China,” said Rogers.
“This lends credibility to false claims and helps to avoid accountability for those who have been involved in forced organ harvesting.”
The move to include Huang has also unsettled Lord David Alton, a longtime human rights advocate and a prominent Catholic.
In a written statement, he said that he is “deeply alarmed” by continuing reports of the “barbaric” forced organ harvesting in China.
“I have encouraged the Pontifical Academy to consider inviting researchers whose findings suggest that forced organ harvesting continues on a scale far larger than was previously known,” he wrote.
“It is right to try to engage with China on these issues, but it is vital that we do so critically and with transparency, and not in a way that simply provides China with a propaganda victory.”
Such transparency has been hard to come by, according to Ethan Gutmann. He has been critical of Dr. Francis Delmonico, the former head of The Transplant Society (TTS) and one of the main summit organizers, for failure to hold China to account for organ harvesting.
Delmonico is “really dedicated” to working “hand in glove” with Huang to promote the idea that China is making medical reforms instead of asking questions about what took place previously, said Gutmann.
Delmonico and Huang are “burying history, burying the bodies so that they are never seen again,” Gutmann said.
“What China has done is the equivalent of a corporation that has produced massive amounts of incredibly toxic material and then buried it where nobody will find it, in the hope that it will somehow seep into the groundwater and be forgotten.”
With files from Associated Press