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Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Falun Gong, organ transplantation, the holocaust and ourselves

Much has been said lately about organ harvesting from live Falun Gong practitioners in China. Tom Treasure’s essay published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (March 2007 edition) is certainly a step in the right direction.

The numbers of organ transplants performed in China and the speed with which organs become available has raised international concern about the source of organs. It is publicly declared that organs come from executed criminals and that consent is given but there are allegations of an even more macabre scenario — that prisoners are systematically subjected to surgery specifically to remove their organs for transplantation. In this essay I explore the plausibility of this claim against our knowledge of doctors' complicity with the events leading to the holocaust and the practicalities of contemporary organ transplantation.

Organ transplantation has increased in China at a remarkable rate. One institution reported 647 liver transplant operations in about a year. The waiting times are between one and two weeks according to Chinese Hospital web pages. Price lists are available with dollar sums well below others in a global health market and under a tenth of those in the USA.1 To become organ donors people have to die young, and under particular circumstances, so organs are generally scarce and waiting times can be long. In China there is a numerical gap between the likely number of donors and the number of organs evidently available in spite of that fact that organ donation has met resistance in Chinese culture. From May 2006 organ transplantation came under regulation for the first time2 but the question still arises, how have these transplant teams achieved such rapid expansion and such short waiting times? An allegation has been made that in China the bodies of healthy living people have been systematically eviscerated and their organs taken for transplantation.3

It is now accepted as fact that the organs of executed criminals in China are used fortransplantation.2 It is claimed that they consent, but can this be freely given? That apart, an argument of the greater good and lesser evil can be invoked: if an individual has lost the right to life under judicial process, perhaps he has also lost the right to have his kidneys buried with him. Why should they be wasted when two innocent victims of renal failure could have an improved and extended life? But there is a still greater concern. As part of an expansion in religious activity into the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of communism, a spiritual movement called the Falun Gong has grown. Practitioners meet to perform their exercises and to meditate. They are pacifist by inclination and seek to meld modern science with Chinese traditions. It is hard to determine why they have attracted such disfavour but they are cast as seditious and undesirable.4 It seems that they are incarcerated in their tens of thousands in order to correct their way of thinking. Apparently when arrested, they are routinely blood tested. There is no reason to believe that it is for the benefit of the Falun Gong but blood group matching is critical to organ donation. The suspicion that Falun Gong practitioners are a source of organs is central to the investigative work of David Matas and David Kilgour who have formulated the allegation.3

The recipients are predominantly those travelling internationally for health care; if Matas and Kilgour are correct the organs come from incarcerated members of an innocent sect; and the perpetrators are of necessity medical practitioners. As the allegation unfolds, the story seems horrific to the point of being beyond belief. So alarmed was I on learning of this allegation that I struggled to make sense of it. The element of the story that horrifies me most, if it is true, is that it is my medical colleagues, the doctors, who perpetrate these acts. This is the only element that I have the capacity to address. While I cannot get more evidence than has already been offered3 I can at least test this allegation for credibility.

( ... )

Revealing the exact source of all donor organs, with a complete and transparent paper trail would be sufficient to refute the allegations but interestingly it may well be difficult to do even in countries more open than China is at present. In the circumstances in which I was involved, there was an explicit understanding that the process only starts when it is what the donor would have wished but the fact is that I had never been in a position to inspect the documentation of the consent process. The hearts arrived in our operating room without a name attached and by then the recipient was anaesthetised and we were well on the way to removing the sick heart. Factors that make the allegations plausible are the partitioning of the logistic elements and technical steps just as described for transplantation anywhere, and the necessity forhaste. What makes it credible are the numerical gap between the reported number of transplants compared with what is possible in other countries, the short waiting times and the confidence with which operations are offered in the global health market1 and the routine blood testing of the Falun Gong. (more)


1. China International Transplantation Network Assistance Center. The cost of the transplantation. 2006.

Ref Type: Electronic Citation Last accessed 9th October 2006

2. Zhang Feng. New rule to regulate organ transplants 2006. 23-9-2006 .

Ref Type: Electronic Citation Last accessed 9th October 2006

3. Matas D. Kilgour D. Report into allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners 2006. 23-9-2006.

Ref Type: Electronic Citation Last accessed 9th October 2006

4. Chinese Embassy 2006. 23-9-2006.

Ref Type: Electronic Citation Last accessed 9th October 2006

5. Lifton RJ. The Nazi Doctors. Basic Books USA; 2000.

This principal publication of the Royal Society of Medicine is a leading general medical journal reflecting current thinking and practice across the range of specialties. Peer-reviewed original reports, editorials and reviews are contributed by an international authorship. The journal also includes selected proceedings of the major Society meetings, book reviews and letters.

Occasional supplements are published. The journal's large worldwide circulation and its listing in Index Medicus ensure extensive exposure to the clinical community.

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