Doc­tors hail China’s pledge to stop har­vest­ing in­mate or­gans

Doubts per­sist that China re­ports ac­cu­rately

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Sur­geons from around the world gath­ered at a con­fer­ence in Beijing on Mon­day in China’s lat­est ef­fort to fight per­sis­tent skep­ti­cism about whether its hos­pi­tals have stopped per­form­ing trans­plants with the or­gans of ex­e­cuted pris­on­ers. Doc­tors from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Mon­treal-based Trans­plan­ta­tion So­ci­ety who were in­vited to the con­fer­ence by China praised Chi­nese of­fi­cials for re­forms they have made in the trans­plant sys­tem, in­clud­ing a ban put in place last year on us­ing or­gans from ex­e­cuted in­mates.

Doubts per­sist that China is ac­cu­rately re­port­ing fig­ures or meet­ing its pledge given its se­vere short­age of or­gan donors and China’s long-stand­ing black-mar­ket or­gan trade. By its own fig­ures, China has one of the low­est rates of or­gan do­na­tion in the world, and even the sys­tem’s ad­vo­cates say it needs hun­dreds of ad­di­tional hos­pi­tals and doc­tors.

Usu­ally sup­presses

While China sup­presses most dis­cus­sions about hu­man rights, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and state me­dia have pub­licly talked about their com­mit­ment to end­ing a prac­tice op­posed by doc­tors and hu­man rights groups due to fears that it pro­motes ex­e­cu­tions and co­er­cion.

In a sign of the is­sue’s sym­bolic im­por­tance to China, the con­fer­ence took place in an or­nate, chan­de­liered ball­room in­side the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, the build­ing next to Tianan­men Square that typ­i­cally hosts for­eign lead­ers and cer­e­mo­nial Com­mu­nist Party events.

Doc­tors at the con­fer­ence Mon­day de­scribed meet­ing pa­tients and vis­it­ing hos­pi­tals around the coun­try, and said the recorded us­age of drugs given to trans­plant pa­tients lined up with China’s re­ported num­bers of trans­plants.

Dr. Jose Nunez, an ad­viser on or­gan trans­plants to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, told the au­di­ence that he be­lieved China was build­ing the “next great” sys­tem. “You are tak­ing this coun­try to a lead­ing po­si­tion within the trans­plan­ta­tion world,” he said. Oth­ers of­fered praise for Chi­nese of­fi­cials, but stopped short of say­ing whether they could con­firm China had stopped us­ing ex­e­cuted in­mates’ or­gans.

“It’s not a mat­ter for us to prove to you that it’s zero,” said Dr. Fran­cis Del­monico, a long­time sur­geon and a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Med­i­cal School. “It’s a mat­ter for the gov­ern­ment to ful­fill what is the law, just as it is in the other coun­tries of the world that we go to.”

China is be­lieved to per­form more ex­e­cu­tions than any other coun­try, though the gov­ern­ment does not dis­close how many. The for­mer vice min­is­ter of health, Dr. Huang Jiefu, pub­licly ac­knowl­edged in 2005 that China har­vested ex­e­cuted in­mates’ or­gans for trans­plant, and a pa­per he co-au­thored six years later re­ported that as many as 90 per­cent of Chi­nese trans­plant surg­eries us­ing or­gans from dead peo­ple came from those put to death.

Huang has also re­sponded to a report ear­lier this year that a Cana­dian pa­tient ap­par­ently re­ceived a kid­ney from an ex­e­cuted in­mate by an­nounc­ing that the doc­tor and the hospi­tal in ques­tion were sus­pended from per­form­ing more trans­plants.

A key im­ped­i­ment is that mem­bers of a donor’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily have the right to veto any trans­plant once the per­son is dead. There is also a tra­di­tional aver­sion to the re­moval of body parts from the dead and a fear that do­nated or­gans could be ex­ploited for mon­e­tary gain.

Dr. Philip O’Con­nell, the im­me­di­ate past pres­i­dent of the Trans­plan­ta­tion So­ci­ety, told re­porters later that he would work with doc­tors sup­port­ing re­form in any coun­try.

“The op­tions are that you com­pletely iso­late some­one, which means that gen­er­ally their prac­tices get com­pounded, or you en­gage with them and you tell them your point of view and ex­plain why it would be bet­ter for them to change,” O’Con­nell said. “That is, I think in the sim­ple terms, what we’re do­ing.” —AP

BEIJING: Huang Jiefu, left, direc­tor of China’s Or­gan Do­na­tion and Trans­plan­ta­tion Com­mit­tee, shakes hands with Fran­cis L. Del­monico, a long­time sur­geon and a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence for the China In­ter­na­tional Or­gan Do­na­tion Con­fer­ence at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple on Mon­day. —AP

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