Organ Harvesting in China Puts Canadian Doctors in Tough Spot

October 29, 2014 Updated: November 4, 2014

OTTAWA, Canada—Growing evidence that the Chinese regime is taking organs from religious and political prisoners, and killing them in the process, is putting Canadian transplant physicians in a tough spot, says Dr. Jeff Zaltzman, the head of renal (kidney) transplants at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

He has had at least 50 patients go to China for transplants, almost all of them Chinese Canadians. 

“I had one young man who had two scars. The first kidney that was transplanted in China didn’t work, and within a few days, he already had a second transplant. That would never happen in Canada,” Zaltzman said.

Zaltzman says what is happening in China has created a third kind of donor that is not found in developed countries like Canada. This other type is the “living dead,” he said. 

“They are living and then they become dead. So that is a unique term to the Chinese situation,” Zaltzman said. 

An re-enactment of organ harvesting in China on Falun Gong practitioners, during a rally in Ottawa, Canada, 2008. (Epoch Times)
This file photo shows re-enactment of organ harvesting in China on Falun Gong practitioners, during a rally in Ottawa, Canada, 2008. (Epoch Times)


Zaltzman and others discussed the problem during a forum on forced organ removal at Toronto General Hospital, hosted by the Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation last week. 

While some doctors are aware their patients could be the impetus for murder in China, they don’t know what they can do about it.

When those transplant recipients return to Canada, they need aftercare while they recover from the surgery. 

Some doctors believe these patients should be turned away, a position Zaltzman struggles with. Doctors treat criminals of every kind, so turning away people that may not be aware they committed a crime is hard to accept, he said. 

The Canadian Society of Transplantation does allow doctors to pass the care of such patients to another physician if they cannot, in good conscience, treat them. That option is only available if another doctor is willing to accept the patient.

Denying these patients care altogether is not something many doctors are willing to consider at this point. 

Linda Wright, director of bioethics at the University Health Network (UHN) pointed out that if physicians did deny these patients care and their new organs failed, the patient would go back on a wait list and could take a donated organ someone else is waiting for. 

They could also, of course, go back to China for another transplant sourced from another living person.

That quagmire puts doctors in an impossible position, she said. Doctors do not want to be enablers, making it possible for their patients to go to China and potentially cause someone to be murdered for an organ.

“But at the same [time], we have duties and obligations to people who are part of our health care system who require care and we are required to provide it to them,” she said. 


While doctors have not found a way to deal with these transplants after the fact, they are working to dissuade patients from traveling to get organs. That includes presentations and giving patients a pamphlet warning them about transplants in China. 

Medical journals and transplant conventions also bar Chinese researchers and their work, unless they pledge not to have used prisoners, though some doctors question how effective this is. 

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney told the Epoch Times on Oct. 21, that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper routinely raises such issues in his meetings with Chinese officials. Kenney himself has confronted China’s former head of domestic security Zhou Yongkang.

“I met with Zhou Yongkang in 2012 in Beijing and raised these concerns about organ harvesting as well as all the other questions about human rights abuses,” Kenney said. So far, this type of political pressure has had little notable effect.

Liberal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler took another approach. He introduced a bill last December that would level sanctions against anyone known to be involved in the organ transplant trade. 

If Cotler’s bill were to pass, Canadians could no longer go to China for an organ transplant without facing criminal charges once they returned. For political reasons, however, that bill is unlikely to get passed.

Zaltzman said if it were to pass, he would support that as a way to help address the dilemma faced by doctors. “That would be a big step forward,” he said.
The Chinese regime once denied it sourced organs from death-row prisoners. Then in 2005, the regime said organs for transplants came from executed criminals. To date, it has refused to provide any clear sourcing for organs used in transplants. 

While Amnesty International’s now discontinued estimates of criminal executions in China ranged around 1,600 per year in 2008, organ transplants number in the tens of thousands, according to China’s former vice minister of health, Huang Jiefu. 

China has no effective organ donation system. That combined with a long list of evidence suggests that China is using its large population of incarcerated citizens, most of whom are imprisoned for non-criminal offenses, as a living organ bank.