Experts have urged the Australian government to join an international treaty against organ trafficking.
Health professionals and human rights groups and advocates gave evidence on June 8 to a parliamentary committee investigating organ trafficking and organ transplant tourism.
Specifically, the inquiry is considering whether Australia’s organ trafficking laws should be extended to prohibit citizens from travelling overseas for unethical transplants, and whether Australia should accede to the 2014 Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.
Madeleine Bridgett, member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights said Australia should accede to the convention because it is the "only treaty that sets laws for trafficking in organs."
The convention aims to have governments criminalise certain forms of organ transplantation, including where the donor is not freely consenting, or where the donor or a third party receives financial gain from the transaction. It also seeks to “facilitate co-operation at national and international levels” on preventing organ trafficking.
By acceding to the treaty, Bridgett said Australia could play a leading role in the Asia-Pacific region "in ensuring all Australians are sourcing organs legally and ethically."
The sentiment was echoed by NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge who told the committee that signing onto the treaty would help in establishing international norms.
"We have an obligation to assist in setting international norms that say unethical trades should be illegal across the globe and should be considered to be reprehensible across the globe," he said.
Transplant Abuse in China
The committee heard concerns about illicit organ trading and transplant abuse in the Asia-Pacific region, in particular in China.
Human rights advocate and Canadian-Chinese actress Anastasia Lin said her research for film roles had revealed to her the extent of state-sanctioned human rights violations in China's organ supply chain.
"Transplant abuse in China is a deeply ingrained systematic state-sanctioned crime," she said.
"Unlike anywhere else in the world, the abuse occurs within the very institutions that are meant to instil confidence and trust—the hospitals."
Lin joined other human rights advocates in calling into question the source of organs that have been used by China’s organ transplant system, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains have come from voluntary donors since 2015, and previously from executed prisoners.
But experts remain skeptical of such claims given conflicting statements from CCP officials surrounding the 2015 ban on using prisoner organs. According to a medical ethics publication, “Even after January 2015, key Chinese transplant officials have repeatedly stated that death-row prisoners have the same right as regular citizens to ‘voluntarily donate’ organs.”
In its submission to the parliamentary inquiry, advocacy group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) pointed to investigations into transplant programs at hundreds of hospitals in China, which include analyses of hospital revenue, bed counts, bed utilisation rates, surgical personnel, training programs, and state funding.
The investigators found that transplants from voluntary donations and executed prisoners can nowhere explain the total number of organ transplants that occur in China. They conclude that organs are forcibly removed from prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners who have been targeted by the CCP for elimination. There is evidence that this practice has now expanded to affect the Uighur people in China's remote Xinjiang Province, reported China Change.
Representative of DAFOH Sonia Bryskine also referred to a recent South Korean documentary exposing ongoing transplant abuse in China. The undercover filmmakers travelled to a prominent hospital and, by posing as a relative of a prospective South Korean kidney transplant patient, were able to obtain first hand footage of the brokerage operations at that hospital.
A nurse was filmed saying a kidney could be obtained in just a few weeks or even sooner if extra money was donated to the hospital.
"[The documentary] estimated that about a thousand Koreans would travel to that one particular facility," Bryskine told the inquiry.
This is despite the fact that international transplant tourism is officially banned in China, Bryskine added.
Lin said that Australians are among the transplant tourists who visit China for operations.
"Western democratic nations have the ability and the duty to intervene," she said.
"Legislation can be used to protect local citizens and, no doubt, be a deterrent to discourage a country's citizens from being a part of this abuse."
People Gather to Protest ‘Real Bodies’ Exhibition in Sydney
There is reason to believe that the corpses on display have come from non-consenting Chinese citizens.