Ladies and Gentlemen,
Organ harvesting from living people is the urgent subject in this session – not only for those whose lives are at stake, but also for the ethics and moral values of our society, in particular for the community of medical doctors.
The urgency becomes even more obvious if we look at a situation that could take place in our daily life: imagine you are an eyewitness to a murder taking place on Stuart Street? You most likely would report this incident to the police. How would you feel, if the policeman in charge would reply – let’s say in a tired mood – “Well, do you have evidence for that, like a photo or video footage? Otherwise I will not investigate on this.”
If you give some time to listen to this reply, then you get a sense of how David Kilgour and David Matas, and with them thousands of others, must feel since the data about live organ harvesting in China was presented to the public.
Now, this is a conference about health and human rights.
In March 2006 a journalist from China broke the headline about organ harvesting from living people, most of the victims were practitioners of Falun Gong.
In order to express the range of the forced organ harvesting, and to understand what is happening beyond our imagination, please allow me to say a few words about the targeted group. –
Falun Gong is a form of personal cultivation that is based on 5 gentle physical exercises and 3 principles: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. In 1992 it was introduced to the public in China and 7 years later the Chinese government estimated 100 million people were practicing the Falun Gong exercises. Part of the reason for this tremendously positive echo was the health benefit that came along with such a benevolent life-style: officials of the health department in China stated that Falun Gong saves the country millions of Dollars in healthcare expenses each year.
[– As a side note: it might be a good idea if our western medicine would take a look at this healthy practice in order to solve the problem of our increasing health care expenses. - ]
The loss of human rights for Falun Gong practitioners started in 1999. The former president Jiang Zemin outlawed them shortly after the poll has been reported. Since then practitioners of Falun Gong are persecuted, brainwashed, tortured by means which are beyond our imagination, and killed. Jiang Zemin gave the order that practitioners tortured to death in detention are considered as “suicides” and that they supposed to be cremated immediately without autopsy, which is western standard before cremation – of course in order to destroy evidence of the torture.
Basically: once the Chinese Communist Party outlaws a person or group of people, they lose all basic human rights, they lose their right to live and to exist: the outlawed human being is turned into a bio-mass. This happened during the Cultural Revolution, it happened at the Tiananmen Square student massacre in 1989 [this might be a reminder for the students in the audience to appreciate their freedom of speech], and it happens these days to Falun Gong – by turning the bio-mass into a source of organs.
Now, let’s put things together.
In the Late 1980s it became a rule in China to harvest organs from executed prisoners. This is up to now unique in the world: in no other country are organs systematically harvested from executed prisoners for the purpose of transplantation. This practice already violates a common ethical standard in the medical community that organs for transplantation should be given freely. In general, prisoners are not considered to be in the position of giving free consent. This also raises the question: what is first – the execution or the demand for the organ?
As Dr. Sven Beholz said in this year’s September edition of the Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation: “As long as Western transplantation medicine continues to accept organs from China without proof of their origin and appropriate consent, we may not only be profiting from Chinese injustice, we may also be promoting it.”
Dr. Beholz mentions the proof of origin. Where do the organs come from? - In the Chinese tradition people are reluctant to donate organs. That’s part of the reason why China lacks of a public organ donation program. That is different from western countries. Although the Chinese government vehemently denied that they harvest organs from executed prisoners, they changed their policy in 2005 when the Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu admitted that ~ 95% of all organs for transplantation are from executed prisoners.
Amnesty International estimated that approximately 2,000 prisoners are executed in Chinese prisons every year. The number of transplantations in China increased slowly in a linear graph between late 1980s and 2001. Then, all of a sudden, a dramatic change took place. Starting from 2001, two years after the persecution of Falun Gong started, the numbers of transplantations increased exponentially, and quickly exceeded the reported number of executions. The result is: tens of thousands of unexplained organs.
The newspaper China Daily reported 20,000 transplantations were performed in 2005; that would be a ratio of 10 transplantations out of one execution.
The number of hospitals that performed transplantations increased by 400% from ~ 150 centers in 1999 to 600 transplantation centers early 2007.
An indirect proof of the growing transplant business is provided by pharmaceutical industries. Astellas as well as Roche stated that their anti-rejections drugs are among the most sold drugs in China. The spokesperson of Roche stated Cellcept is the third most sold drug of his company in China. However one would expect that a country with a GDP that is ranked on position 86 in the world, right after Algeria, other drugs for more common, more prevalent diseases would have a bigger market.
It appears there is an abundance of organs in China:
In 2006 the Hunan Provincial People's Hospital advertised in 2 newspapers and local TV that they have 20 livers and kidneys to give away for free transplantation.
In another case a patient was diagnosed to need an immediate heart transplantation. The matching heart was found and transplanted within 24 hours.
In July 2006 during the World Transplant Congress in Boston, I talked to a doctor from the Tianjin Hospital. He told me that they perform 1,200 liver transplantations per year. To put this number into perspective: in Germany there are ~ 900 liver transplants per year, and in Argentina ~ 200 liver transplants.
Chinese hospitals advertised on websites in 5 different languages that they could provide any type of organ within 2-3 weeks. This was the first time ever in the world that one could schedule a transplantation with 2-3 weeks notice. On the one side this time window is too short to be plausible, on the other side it is too long. In Western countries patients in need are either on a waiting list for many years, or they are called for an immediate operation if a person with the matching factors died in an accident. Since China doesn’t carry the western definition of brain death, this is not an option either.
The unlimited supply of organs combined with the factor of providing the organs in a short time suggests that there is a living pool of donors, systematically organized, ready to be harvested for their organs any time. It further suggests that these executed criminals, often convicted for minor offenses, are not the only source for the organs. Convicted criminals are usually instantly executed after the verdict, thus cannot contribute to a standing pool of living donors.
According to various sources only Falun Gong practitioners in detention are systematically blood tested, not other criminals. Now, you may wonder, why should the authorities spend extra money for blood drawing on individuals that are subject to torture and killing? This is certainly not because the police care about their health. It is rather a mandatory step in order to build up an organ bank of living donors. It enables the authorities to serve organs on-demand.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Falun Gong practitioners are known for having good health conditions, which makes them to perfect organ donors. But they were also subject to torture, even to death, and to cremation. It is not difficult to imagine that in 2001 the practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners shifted beyond a gray zone and became an illegal practice by using these Falun Gong practitioners as a living organ bank. That served the same purpose of destroying them physically, as demanded by Jiang Zemin, and on top turned the persecution at the same time into a profitable business.
Organ transplantation is an important procedure in today’s medical care. However the medical profession must take responsibility that desperate patients don’t cross the line and become unknowingly participants in a crime against humanity. Asking for an organ from China may cause the death of a healthy human being. The wish for prolonging one’s own life by killing another life cannot be an option for the medical profession. It would lead the medical profession ad absurdum. That’s why I believe that the organ procurement practices in China are a threat to western medicine.
A strong stand of the medical community in this regard is mandatory in order to protect the medical profession. Dissociating health care and human rights would be a disaster for the medical as well as the legal profession.
Health care and human rights are two sides of the same coin. If we are serious about our medical profession we cannot accept killing for organs.
Thank you for your attention.