TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Local doctors who have helped a visiting Chinese doctor solicit Taiwan patients for liver transplants in China will be subject to legal penalties, officials with the Cabinet-level Department of Health (DOH) and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said yesterday.
Hsueh Jui-yuan, director of the DOH's Bureau of Medical Affairs, said such doctors could be disciplined for violation of medical ethics.
The penalties, depending on the seriousness of the violation, range from an official reprimand to having their medical licenses revoked, he added.
"Chinese doctors, who illegally practice medicine in Taiwan could be sentenced up to two years in prison," said Jeff Yang, director of the MAC's Department of Legal Affairs.
He added that doctors from three or four Taiwanese hospitals are suspected of having served as brokers between Taiwanese patients and Chinese organ suppliers, which is illegal.
Hsueh and Yang made the remarks at a news conference held at the legislature by ruling Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin, who alleged that China may have become the world's "organ transplant supermarket."
Pointing out that many international human rights organizations have expressed concern about China's frequent execution of prisoners, Tien implied that a majority of those executed -- many of whom were reportedly in healthy condition -- might have been executed to harvest their organs, rather than as punishment for their crimes.
According to a 2006 report published by the Falun Gong organization, the Chinese government has been harvesting organs from political prisoners and criminals alike without their prior permission. The organs are later sold to hospitals specializing in organ transplants.
Accordingly, Tien claimed that a "young and strong" executed prisoner would be worth up to NT$5 million, if his organs were removed and sold to Taiwanese patients.
Tien also alleged that China has offered "organ transplant tourism" packages, soliciting Taiwanese citizens seeking organ transplants in China.
"Only two or three weeks are needed to match patients with suitable organs and make other relevant arrangements," she said.
Therefore, the DOH has launched a probe following reports that a Chinese doctor solicited local patients for liver transplants in China during a professional visit to Taiwan last March, DOH officials said.
The Chinese-language Liberty Times reported Oct. 24 that Zhu Zhijun, director of the organ transplant center of the Tianjin First Central Hospital, conducted assessments on liver disease patients waiting to travel to China to get transplants, while accompanied by two Taiwan doctors. The Tianjin hospital is touted as the biggest liver transplant center in Asia, said the report.
Hsueh said the DOH has instructed the Taipei Department of Health to conduct a thorough probe into the matter, including determining the identity of the two local doctors who reportedly accompanied Zhu during his visit to the patients.
He added that Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, in the southern city of Kaohsiung, which invited Zhu to visit Taiwan, should also be dealt with according to the Statute Governing the Relations Between the people of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.
"Organ harvesting is a big business in China," said Theresa Chu, a New York-based lawyer, who has come to Taiwan to research business-related organ transplants between Taiwan and China for the Falun Gong organization.
She added that according to DOH figures, only 400 people received organ transplants last year, while noting that more than 7,000 people were registered on a waiting list for organ transplants.
"Taiwan Law should be revised, so that it would become illegal to receive an organ transplant if the source of the organ is doubtful," she said.