— China has long been a prime destination for those in need of transplants. Transplant “tourists” from around the world, frustrated by the long wait lists in their own countries, find the guarantee of a transplant offered by many Chinese hospitals and brokers a cheaper and quicker solution to their organ failure.
But China does not have an official organ donation system for getting organs from the dead. Since there are not nearly enough organs to meet local needs, much less the demands of all these rich visitors, they are being procured from executed prisoners. This is a reprehensible practice that must be stopped. For one thing, consent from these prisoners is non-existent or questionable. And the Chinese government has admitted that some executions may have even be timed for the convenience of a transplant recipient.
The Chinese government knows that the practice is controversial and has made promises about stopping executions on demand for body parts.
Without greater international pressure, killing for parts won’t stop. Just recently, plans were announced for building a major expansion of facilities capable of doing organ transplant -- “an international medical city by 2020. The project will create a medical tourism resort with … organ transplantation centres. It will also have residential, eco-tourism, cultural and entertainment facilities." The expansion is obviously aimed at bringing to China even more wealthy, ailing foreigners.
Killing prisoners for their parts is unethical on its own, but the practice is even more heinous given that prisoners in China can get death sentences for their religious or spiritual beliefs, political views or relatively minor crimes.
While we wait for more action from governments to pressure China to bring execution for parts to an end, the medical and scientific community should simply boycott anything having to do with transplantation in China, including not publishing articles about the results of transplant activities, funding collaborative research or allowing talks at scientific and medical conferences. My colleagues and I call for this boycott in today's issue of the medical journal The Lancet.
Using organs from prisoners who are executed on demand to get parts for rich visitors may bring currency to China but it also ought to bring shame. The Chinese people who need transplants deserve a better system as do the hapless prisoners who are being victimized. The rest of the world should say so loudly and clearly.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.