China's use of organs harvested from executed prisoners is "unethical" and "distasteful" and should be universally condemned by the international medical establishment, a leading physician said last week.
Professor Stephen Wigmore, chair of the ethics committee of the British Transplantation Society, called for support from other related health organisations and the UN to "send a powerful message to China that the rest of the world does not endorse their practice."
The statement follows increasing concerns that prisoners are executed and their organs extracted without prior consent. Dr Wigmore said that any written consent ostensibly from the executed prisoner should be treated with suspicion:
"The Chinese government claims that condemned prisons have given their consent to organ donation. We would consider this consent invalid because the power grading is so enormous between the state and a prisoner condemned to death," he told news channel NTDTV in an interview.
"It's impossible to accept that this is a voluntary, freely given consent."
Dr. Wigmore also stated that he had nagging doubts over whether the supply of fresh organs from recently executed prisoners was staged in response to demand from paying customers. He believed that the so-called 'efficiency' of the system advertised by Chinese donor websites was only made possible by the cooperation of the donor services with the judicial and prison systems.
Moral Costs of Organs from Prisoners without Consent Outweigh Benefits
Dr. Wigmore stated that he understood that people may go to China for an organ out of desperation, but hinted that the moral costs may outweigh the apparent benefits:
"I think if people were to boycott the Chinese transplantation services, the desire for organs will diminish because I think the financial rewards that some of these hospitals get is one of the principal reasons for they are active as they are," he explained.
As well as calling for a consensus statement from medical ethics committees to oppose the practice, he also stated that medical journals could also apply pressure by refusing to publish articles on transplantation by Chinese authors until certain moral standards were met.
Moreover he also stated that there was a real need for an international agency such as the UN or the World Health Organisation to conduct "a full frank enquiry" into the allegations.
"That's the only way that we will have global acceptance that there is problem in china, and only then, the Chinese government will be forced to change," Dr. Wigmore opined.
Concluding with his personal reaction to the claims of organ harvesting, Dr. Wigmore said that he felt "disgusted" and stated that the practice was an affront to the idea of a gift that is freely given.
"The story about prisoners been executed and dragged into a van and have their organs removed is just so far removed from our understanding of organ donation. It is complete shocking and distasteful," he added.