Transplant specialists are calling on the Prime Minister to pressure the Chinese regime to end the organ trade, following growing concerns that the organs are being taken from live prisoners and Falun Gong practitioners for huge profits.
Around 20 transplant specialists were signatories to a "strongly worded letter" sent to Helen Clark in December, but they have yet to receive a response.
The group, from Auckland Hospital, have also recommended a ban on training Chinese doctors in transplant surgery until they can be assured that the skills will not be used to harvest organs from unwilling donors.
The letter's author Professor John McCall, the New Zealand representative for the transplant section of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and transplant specialist at Auckland Hospital, says the lack of response does not indicate a lack of interest from the Government.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are all aware of what is happening in China, he said.
"People are being killed on demand, they may be prisoners who are sentenced to death, but they are still being killed on demand to provide organs for a commercialised transplant industry - which is just hideous, it's outrageous.
"And I think that public opinion around the world, and from the transplant community and also governments, is the thing that is most likely to change it."
The Transplant Society, an international body, has condemned the organ trade in China.
"There is one thing that the transplant community agrees on and that is that this practise is abhorrent, and we must do everything we can to stop it."
- Professor John McCall, New Zealand representative for the transplant section of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and transplant specialist at Auckland Hospital.
"There is one thing that the transplant community agrees on and that is that this practise is abhorrent, and we must do everything we can to stop it," Professor McCall said.
Director of the New Zealand Transplant Unit at Auckland Hospital, Professor Stephen Munn, said executed prisoners' organs had been used for transplantation purposes in China for a long time, but until recently Chinese officials had denied the allegations.
In November last year China's Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu finally admitted that "most of the organs for sale are from executed prisoners", but said huge domestic and international demand was causing "a shortfall".
"The transplantation society and a lot of Western countries objected to that - knowing that there were many crimes for which capital punishment was used in China - including dissidence and fraud, rather than murder or more heinous type crimes," Professor Munn said.
"So there was a lot of concern about using executed prisoners' organs and particularly for the associated industry where they made a lot of money out of these organs when foreign nationals came to buy them."
He said indirect evidence suggests that the majority of organs are coming from Falun Gong practitioners.
"We don't have direct evidence but we have indirect evidence, that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners are imprisoned, and blood-typed and potentially even tissue-typed and that they are then being used as organ donors," Professor Munn said.
"There may have been a completely different component to it whereby they were not just executed in the usual fashion but they were actually anaesthetised, their organs recovered, and then they were allowed to die," he said.
"There may have been a completely different component to it whereby they were not just executed in the usual fashion but they were actually anaesthetised, their organs recovered, and then they were allowed to die."
- Professor Stephen Munn, director of the New Zealand Transplant Unit at Auckland Hospital.
This raised the level of ethical and moral concern, he said. He said the international transplant community began to actively condemn the Chinese organ trade following reports from former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour and international human rights lawyer David Matas.
New Zealanders Buy Chinese organs
Professor Munn said many of his colleagues know of New Zealanders who paid for an organ transplant in China. He said the patients become very desperate and will "do anything to get an organ" because there is an organ shortage in New Zealand.
"We empathise with them, but given where they [the organs] are coming from in China, we strongly advise patients against going there."
New Zealand had just 29 organ donors during 2005 and 40 in 2004―the lowest number in the West, according to the Give Life New Zealand website.
National education manager for the Kidney Foundation, Carmel Gregan-Ford, said there were between 350-400 New Zealanders currently waiting for a kidney transplant.
China's Organ Trade
The Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China from Canadian authors Matas and Kilgour found that the number of organ transplants dramatically increased since the start of the persecution of Falun Gong in 1999.
In 1998 one Chinese hospital performed nine liver transplants, but in 2005 it completed 2248, according to figures obtained by the authors.
Chinese hospital websites are advertising short waiting times of only a few days to a month for a "fresh" organ.
Matas and Kilgour conclude that there is a large live organ bank in China, and the hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners held in detention centres are the most plausible organ suppliers.
"This is a form of evil we have yet to see on this planet," the authors said.
A revised report - Bloody Harvest – was published in January this year, which almost doubles the evidence gathered for the initial report.
Doctors Against Organ Harvesting representative Torsten Trey spoke to a Chinese transplant surgeon from Tianjin city at the World Transplant Congress in Boston last year.
The surgeon told Dr Trey that his hospital performs more than 2000 liver transplants a year. That hospital was one of three that performs liver transplants in the city and that hospital alone was performing more than twice the operations in one year than the entire country of Germany.
A BBC journalist investigating the allegations visited a hospital in Tianjin city last year saying he needed a liver transplant for a relative.
The journalist was told that a suitable liver could be provided within three weeks because a high number of executions was arranged before the October 1 National Day celebration.
The hospital he visited performed about 600 liver transplants in 2005, with each liver costing foreign recipients US$70,000 plus US$20,000 for the surgeon's services.
Auckland Hospital renal physician Ian Dittmer said the World Health Organisation held a forum on transplantation about 18 months ago.
He said officials from China's transplant community and Ministry of Health said that a huge number of transplants were happening in China. Almost all organs were taken from executed people, he said.
"It is probably fair to say that those people [surgeons and health officials] think it is reasonable to use the organs from executed prisoners."
Dr Dittmer agrees with his colleagues that New Zealand should consider refusing to train surgeons who may return to China to become part of "practices which are outside what we would accept".
The Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) have issued an ethical statement on their website warning against travel to China for organ transplantation. They say that organs and tissues must be given freely and without coercion.
"Because of the restrictions in liberty in a prison environment it is impossible to ascertain whether prisoners are truly free to make independent decisions, and thus an autonomous informed consent for donation cannot be obtained. Therefore, the TSANZ is opposed to any use of organs from executed prisoners."
Comparisons With the Holocaust
In the March edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, British surgeon Tom Treasure compares transplant surgeons in China with doctors involved in similar genocide campaigns during the holocaust.
He explains how the surgeons become numbed by the organ extraction process.
"The heart and lungs are kept functioning while meticulous dissection and mobilization of the liver are completed.
Then, in a rapid sequence, the organs—heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and then corneas—are removed, preserved and taken away... The unprepared normal person might well find this both macabre and repulsive, but transplant teams necessarily become inured to these emotional and visceral responses," he said in The Falun Gong, organ transplantation, the holocaust and ourselves.
For further information visit: www.organharvestinvestigation.net and www.cipfg.org