Researchers from an Australian-led study have called for the withdrawal of more than 400 organ transplant research papers from China amid concerns the organs were acquired from prisoners.
In the study published this month in the medical journal BMJ Open, researchers said that 445 research papers published in English language medical journals included studies using the outcomes of 85,477 transplants carried out in China.
The study’s seven researchers investigated “whether papers reporting research on Chinese transplant recipients comply with international professional standards aimed at excluding publication of research that: (1) involves any biological material from executed prisoners, (2) lacks Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, and (3) lacks consent of donors.”
The study said that the vast majority of these papers did not meet international professional standards, with 412 (92.5 percent) failing to report whether or not organs were sourced from executed prisoners.
“And 439 (99 percent) failed to report that organ sources gave consent for transplantation,” it said.
“In contrast, 324 (73 percent) reported approval from an IRB. Of the papers claiming that no prisoners’ organs were involved in the transplants, 19 of them involved 2,688 transplants that took place prior to 2010, when there was no volunteer donor program in China.”
China’s transplant industry has long been dogged by credible media reports of state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting from prisoners, including those deemed prisoners of conscience. China’s communist government has described such reports as based on rumors and says its organ transplant industry has reformed and is now aboveboard.
The study also criticized the transplant research community, saying that it “failed to implement ethical standards banning publication of research using material from executed prisoners.”
The study pointed out what such failures have led to.
“As a result, a large body of unethical research now exists, raising issues of complicity and moral hazard to the extent that the transplant community uses and benefits from the results of this research. We call for retraction of this literature pending investigation of individual papers,” it said.
One of the paper’s authors, Wendy Rogers, a professor of clinical ethics at Macquarie University, Sydney, told The Guardian that journals, researchers, and clinicians who have used the research were complicit in “barbaric” methods of gaining organs.
“There’s no real pressure from research leaders on China to be more transparent,” Professor Rogers said. “Everyone seems to say: ‘It’s not our job’. The world’s silence on this barbaric issue must stop.”
Data not credible
Another paper published this month that analyses official Chinese deceased organ donation data has cast further doubt on the credibility of China’s claims of successful organ transplant reform.
The paper’s researchers, which include Israeli surgeon Professor Jacob Lavee, similarly criticized international medical organizations who have been willing to accept official Chinese reassurances over its controversial transplant practices.
“These international medical organizations in general based their change of policy towards China upon pre-arranged visits to only few transplant centers and have not questioned how China managed to achieve such extraordinary rates of growth in hospital-based organ procurement, nor sought to verify the claims made by Chinese officials about the cessation of use of nonvoluntary donors,” said the paper.
The paper’s researchers examined the availability, transparency, integrity, and consistency of China’s official transplant data from 2010 to 2018.
Over the eight years, Chinese officials stated they were reforming their organ transplantation system by developing a voluntary organ donation and allocation infrastructure. The data supplied by China to back up these claims has been refuted by the paper’s researchers.
“A variety of evidence points to systematic falsification and manipulation of official organ transplant datasets and the misclassification of donors in China,” the paper said.
Up to 100,000 organ transplants per year
Three years ago, a ground-breaking report estimated there are 60,000 to 100,000 organ transplants are performed annually in China.
Among the evidence used to calculate these figures was data from hospital revenue, transplantation volumes, bed utilization rates, surgical personnel, training programs, and state funding.
The report was written by Canadian researchers former MP David Kilgour, human rights lawyer David Matas, and investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann,
They concluded the source for these organs was prisoners of conscience, mostly Falun Gong practitioners who have been persecuted by the state since 1999.
Other prisoners of conscience — Tibetans, Uyghurs, and House Christians — have also been targeted by the communists as a source of bodily organs, only to a lesser extent, their report said.
All three men have in the past been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their work investigating organ harvesting in China.
In June 2016, a U.S. House of Representatives resolution was unanimously passed that urged the Chinese government to stop harvesting the organs of prisoners of conscience and end the persecution against Falun Gong.
The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in 2013.
Watch below “The Dark Side of Transplant Tourism in China: Killing to Live,” a documentary on China’s transplant tourism produced for South Korea’s TV Chosun: