With a Nod to China’s Organ Harvesting, UK Lawmakers Tweak Medicines Bill

January 28, 2021 Updated: January 28, 2021

With a nod to China’s forced organ harvesting, UK lawmakers have added an amendment to legislation on medicines that may require proof of consent for the use of human tissues obtained from overseas.

Proponents of the measure—which tackles only the use of human tissue in medicines—acknowledge that it is largely symbolic, but describe it as a small but important first step in the United Kingdom to tackling potential complicity in overseas crimes.

It’s the first time UK lawmakers have enacted any legislation that addresses the issue of consent on human tissue from overseas.

The amendment, which was introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Hunt and passed the House of Commons on Jan. 27, is expected to become law next month.

The Medicines and Medical Devices Bill was intended as a post-Brexit replacement for the EU regulatory framework. Lawmakers who hold concerns about organ trafficking took the opportunity to try to squeeze in an amendment specifically on tissue consent.

During debates, many cited at length concerns over the origins of plastinated bodies exhibitions, and evidence from a tribunal that concluded state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting is still occurring in China.

More to Do

The amendment gives the government the power—but doesn’t compel it—to regulate to demand proof of the origin of human tissue used in medicines.

“It gives Ministers the powers to do the right thing,” MP Marie Rimmer told the House of Commons.

“It is important to stress that this amendment has NOT dealt with the issue of organ transplant tourism, nor the issue of plastinated, unclaimed bodies being imported and commercially displayed that we saw in Birmingham,” she said.

“While this amendment is a welcome start, it is only the beginning. There is much more to do.”

That opinion is echoed by Adnan Sharif, a kidney transplant surgeon who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in educating his medical peers, lawmakers, and the public on the evidence of forced organ harvesting.

Sharif, who works at the QE Hospital in Birmingham, acknowledges that the material impact of the legislation is minimal.

“You could count on one hand the medicines which use human tissue,” he told The Epoch Times. “I think this [legislation] is a bit more of a bark than a bite just now.”

(L-R) Dr. Adnan Sharif, consultant nephrologist and secretary for DAFOH, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ethan Gutmann, and Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, at a Parliament briefing in April 2018. (Justin Palmer)

Nonetheless, he still regards it as a very positive symbolic step.

“This is not the end goal,” he says.

China Tribunal Findings

Most significantly, he says, the amendment provided an opportunity for lawmakers to raise their broader concerns at length in the House of Lords and in Parliament.  Notably, Sharif says, many members of the House of Lords cited the 2020 findings of the China Tribunal.

After an 18-month investigation, the tribunal concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience had taken place for years in China “on a significant scale,” and is still taking place.

The main organ supply came from imprisoned practitioners of the persecuted spiritual group Falun Gong, according to the tribunal.

The independent panel was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who previously led the prosecution of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the China Tribunal, deliver’s the tribunal’s judgment in London on June 17, 2019. (Justin Palmer)

Sharif said that after the tribunal, which was held in London, Lords and MPs seemed to be more aware of the issue.

“But there’s still not enough awareness,” he said. “Even within the transplantation community, there’s a lot of people who still do not quite understand what the allegations are, and what the evidence is, who may still not heard of the China Tribunal.”

Sharif says that currently there’s no legislation or mechanism that would prevent one of his patients from going to China and returning with a kidney transplant from a prisoner of conscience and just slipping back into the health care system.

Some countries, including Spain, Taiwan, Italy, and Israel, have passed legislation aimed at preventing their citizens from traveling abroad for transplants.

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