BERLIN, Germany—China’s practice of killing prisoners of conscience for their organs has been part of discussions about human rights in China for a decade, but responses to it have always been vexing. What should the West do in the face of what some researchers have called “a new form of evil”? A set of six proposals was the response, as suggested by German lawmakers and leading international researchers on the topic, who gathered for a public forum at the Hotel Albrechtshof in downtown Berlin recently.
The event was hosted by the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, a network of researchers who focus on cataloging evidence of abuses against the Falun Gong spiritual practice in China.
After the presentation of voluminous evidence leading to the conclusion that this practice has been taking place, and on a large scale, German MPs proposed a series of measures that can be taken around the world aimed to put an end to the practice.
For years researchers have presented evidence that the Chinese Communist Party has been using, primarily, imprisoned practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline as a ready source of transplant organs. Falun Gong was a highly popular form of physical and mental discipline throughout the 1990s in China, until it was targeted for elimination in 1999. Since about the year 2000, it is believed, imprisoned adherents have been blood-typed and when a recipient arrives at a hospital in need of a transplant, they are harvested for their organs, a process that researchers have indicated takes place while the victims are still alive, and results in their death. The extent of the practice is not known, but earlier this year three investigators argued that China has been performing between 60,000 and 100,000 transplants annually since the year 2000, most of them presumed to be harvested from Falun Gong.
Given that, as researchers claim, Chinese communist military hospitals have been among the institutions deeply involved in the profitable and gruesome business, it is unclear how much impact external efforts can have on Chinese practices. Yet there are still a range of measures that can be taken by countries like Germany, the MPs said, which ensure at least that the West is not complicit.
Here are the six proposals that arose from discussions at the forum, for Western countries to help stop organ harvesting in China.
“It is important to exert pressure on China,” said Martin Patzelt, a conservative German MP who takes a strong interest in human rights issues, having hosted and helped to relocate refugees from Eritrea.
One way of exerting pressure is condemning the practice through resolutions, like those initiated by the U.S. House of Representatives this year, and also by the European Parliament, he said. Patzelt indicated that the German parliament ought to also consider a similar resolution.
Stop Training Chinese Surgeons
Western countries have extensively trained Chinese surgeons, according to data available on Chinese-government and hospital websites, and this is one of the first things it was suggested be addressed.
“We will investigate which institutions Chinese doctors received training from. We need to pass laws to prevent them from doing it,” said Patzelt. “Our members of the parliament also have to put pressure on such institutions.”
Deny Entry to Doctors Involved in Killing for Organs
For years the United States has required foreigners who cross its borders to tick a box on a customs entry form declaring that the individual has not been involved in the coercive procurement of human organs.
Arne Schwarz, an independent researcher of organ trafficking, suggested that Germany and other countries adopt a similar policy. He conceded that doctors who have killed for organs are not very well going to admit as much on an official government document, but he argued that if it is later found that they were involved in the practice, the U.S. government would have reason to deport them.
“There are the names of some of these people involved in organ harvesting… When they go abroad, we should deny their entry into our country,” said MEP Arne Gericke. Both Gerick and Patzelt spoke in German.
Put Pressure on Western Pharmaceutical Firms
Schwarz drew attention to the fact that many Western pharmaceutical firms have conducted unethical clinical trials in China, as well as supplied drugs used by patients who receive unethically-sourced organs.
Measures could be taken in the West to limit this activity, Patzelt said. “We have to start with ourselves and question those Western pharmaceutical companies, which supply China with organ transplant drugs and support organ transplantation in China. This is very important.”
Pass Laws Preventing ‘Transplant Tourism’
China’s organ transplant boom has been fueled in part by foreign tourists who travel there to receive a kidney, liver, or heart. Israel, Spain, and Taiwan have passed laws denying insurance coverage or criminalizing this practice, and MEP Gerick said that Germany should also have such a law.
“We must stipulate in German law that whoever goes to a foreign country for an organ transplant must have a clear idea of the sources, and that there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We have to at least minimize the possibility of German involvement in this criminal act,” he said.
Raise Awareness About Organ Harvesting
One of the most basic suggestions that emerged is a continuation of efforts that have spanned over a decade already, since the allegations of organ harvesting from Falun Gong emerged in 2006: making sure the public, the political community, and the media are fully aware of the reality of the practice and its scale.
A widespread sense of the abhorrence of what the Chinese Communist Party has done will help to drive efforts to end organ harvesting, participants said.
“Some members of the parliament said, ‘This is impossible,'” said Patzelt, referring to German involvement in actually ending abuses in China. “I would say, ‘It is not impossible. We’ve just never done it.’ We should have the courage to embark on this path, and then we will be able to change a lot of things.'”
He referred to the efforts of the Falun Gong community itself, which is composed of volunteers, as a “role model” for the attitude required to push for change when overwhelmed by the odds.
“The Falun Gong practitioners that contacted European Parliament MEPs were perseverant and very patient, and they were confident that they could achieve their goals of having members sign the written declaration,” Patzelt said, referring to “Written Declaration 48,” which re-asserted the conclusion of a 2013 resolution by the parliament that the transplant abuses in China be investigated.
“I think that they can be our role models and make us positively face the task of amending German organ transplantation laws, to prevent Germans from traveling to China for organ transplants,” he said.
Others who delivered remarks on the day included Ethan Gutmann, author of “The Slaughter,” a book dedicated to the topic; Dr. Wang Zhiyuan, the president of World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong; Prof. Nieh Sen, the vice president of WOIPFG who served as a moderator; Christopher Strässer MdB, a member of the German Bundestag and a former human rights commissioner in Germany; Dr. Charles Lee, a former prisoner of conscience and director of public awareness with WOIPFG.
Edward McMillan-Scott, former vice president of the European Parliament provided written remarks that were read out at the event, as did Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey. Rep. Smith’s presentation was titled “Organ Harvesting and Trade are Unacceptable and Must be Ended.”
Mercura Wang contributed translation.