A study calling for the retraction of Chinese scientific papers on organ transplantation because of unethical procurement of organs was published last week in the medical journal BMJ Open. Many newspapers reported this as reflecting longstanding concerns that China takes organs from executed prisoners who could not consent freely. This long-standing concern misses an even more horrifying dimension to the atrocities of which China is now suspected. The evidence is powerful, the conclusions almost too unpleasant to commit to paper. China is not accused only of using organs from executed prisoners, but of harvesting organs of still-living prisoners of conscience – in other words, the removal of their organs is both the purpose to and the cause of their death.
Huang Jiefu, head of China’s transplantation programme, and a regular attendee at global transplant conference, denies it all, insisting that donors are deceased volunteers from intensive care. It seems impossible that he believes this, but China’s impenetrable secrecy has made his words difficult to disprove. Claims of such gravity need independent verification before they can be voiced, but several groups have been investigating for years. They include the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China, David Kilgour, former Canadian Secretary of State, David Matas, a human rights lawyer, Ethan Gutmann, an investigative writer, the organisation ‘Stop Organ Harvesting in China’, and the China Organ Harvest Research Centre Investigation. The latter, which reported last year, included an undercover investigation inside China by a South Korean TV station, and added the concern that the Uyghurs of Xinjiang may be following the Falun Gong to their doom.
Eye has already detailed the huge discrepancy between official Chinese transplant figures and the numbers hospitals report, which suggest 60,000 to 100,000 organs transplanted each year despite a small donor register, a reluctant populace and no organised system of allocations. It has reported that this gap, once made up of convicted felons is now believed made up by prisoners of conscience. Evidence of donation-to-order comes from waiting times of weeks, scheduling of surgery days in advance, and assurances that multiple back-up organs are on site. Evidence that victims go into surgery alive come from claims by Chinese witnesses, and taped calls with senior Chinese doctors in transplant centres explicitly stating that available Falun Gong organs are from still-living donors. The UN Committee Against Torture observed in 2008, ‘the Special Rapporteur on Torture… has noted that an increase in organ transplant operations coincides with “the beginning of the persecution of [Falun Gong practitioners].
Removal of hearts, lungs and livers is not compatible with survival, but it greatly improves the viability of the organ being taken. To be very clear a living organ source (Dr Grim cannot use the word donor) is one with a beating heart, is someone’s son or daughter, is not dead. We should do more than delist publications. It’s over 100 years since Wilfred Owen wrote, ‘what passing bells for these that die as cattle?’ It’s time we answered the question.