Most countries have attempted to find their own solutions to national organ shortages. Austria has an opt-out donation system, some US states offer tax incentives for donors, Iran famously legalised private organ trade… Some East Asian countries like Japan, however, do nothing to encourage donations. So where do wealthy Japanese patients get their shiny new organs?
Well, the answer is a simple one: they go to China for a spot of ‘transplant tourism.’ Prospective organ recipients from all over Asia flood to Chinese hospitals for expensive – but guaranteed – transplants. Wait times are unbelievably short. Compatible organs are mysteriously found in a matter of days or weeks. There are enough organs for every foreign visitor that desires a transplant, but the source of tens of thousands of organs remains unclear and unexplained.
So where does China source all these human organs from?
David Kilgour, a former Canadian minister, and David Matas, a renowned human rights lawyer, conducted one of the first investigations into the matter in 2006 and concluded that “there have been, and continue today, large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong* practitioners.” The authors received an award from the International Society for Human Rights, and the report prompted many international bodies (like the EU and the World Health Organisation) to conduct their own investigations and consultations. The report was updated in 2016 after continued investigations.
Five years ago, the United Stated House Committee on Foreign Affairs set up a hearing about these organ seizures. Chinese prisoners and medical staff gave evidence, and it was concluded that 60,000+ Falun Gong prisoners of conscience had been killed for their organs. It was also noted at this hearing that there was an “exponential increase in transplantations” and a rise in body plastination (an industry that requires cadavers) at the same time as the imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners began.
The Kilgour-Matas report and the testimony given at that hearing, together with innumerable witness statements and research findings, all point to one thing: Falun Gong practitioners are systematically persecuted, imprisoned, and subsequently murdered so their organs can be forcibly taken and sold for thousands of dollars to rich ‘transplant tourists.’ A woman even reported that her husband, a surgeon working in a hospital near the city of Shenyang, took the corneas from 2,000 prisoners while they were still alive. A Chinese military doctor later confirmed her story.
International organisations like Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, and the EU have clambered over each other to conduct investigations, condemn the practice, and some have even declared this practice ‘genocide’; it’s a pity that so far, nobody seems to have done much about it.
Some countries, like Israel, Italy and Australia gave it a shot by banning transplant tourism for their own citizens or refusing to train Chinese doctors in transplant surgery. Spain and Argentina charged high-ranking Chinese officials with genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in organising the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. However, the threat of economic backlash from China has made major western powers (like the US and UK) procrastinate on taking any meaningful action beyond the United States’ investigations. Meanwhile, the extermination of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience continues.
Officially, transplant tourism is illegal in China, with the government vehemently denying allegations of forced organ harvesting and banning the Kilgour-Matas report. (It is now also banned in Russia.) Perhaps, the Chinese government would be more believable if it didn’t keep trying to punish the Chinese nationals that speak out about organ harvesting. A Chinese tour guide, Cao Dong, was imprisoned for five years for telling the European Parliament Vice President (who was investigating the matter) that he had seen his Falun Gong practitioner friend’s body “in the morgue with holes where body parts had been removed.”
Amnesty International claimed it has “strong evidence” that Chinese law enforcement and other public services – and by extension the ruling party – are complicit in this highly profitable transplant tourism, even providing “mobile execution chambers” or “death vans” for prisoners. Family members are generally not allowed to see the prisoners’ bodies after the execution, as they are immediately cremated, yet another smokescreen to hide what happens to the organs.
What can we do about it?
Many organisations encourage members of the public to sign petitions and contact their MP, with the end goal of getting the international community to collectively condemn forced organ harvesting. However, this approach has already been tried, with almost every international organisation and humanitarian NGO imaginable denouncing the practice. It hasn’t worked.
What might be a more effective approach is targeting how profitable the organ trade is. If there weren’t national organ shortages, there would be no need for transplant tourism, and by extension, no need for prisoners’ organs. It follows that a way to stop forced organ harvesting would be ensuring that there are enough organs being donated in our own countries, to discourage our own citizens from travelling to places like China for transplants.
This can be done in a number of ways: signing ourselves up to the NHS donor register; campaigning for an opt-out donor registration system (proven very effective in Austria); and spreading awareness of how organ transplants save lives, in the hope of influencing negative cultural attitudes in places like Japan.
What’s truly important is that we don’t simply look the other way.
Further reading: www.stoporganharvesting.org/learn/
*Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline that combines meditation and exercises with a moral philosophy. In 1999, following a large-scale demonstration to request official recognition, Chinese authorities initiated a nationwide campaign to suppress the group. (Wikipedia) The suppression efforts have allegedly involved imprisonment, torture, and execution.
*A prisoner of conscience is a person who has been jailed for holding political or religious views that are not tolerated in the state in which they live. (Google Dictionary)