House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016

Private Members' Business

China: Organ Harvesting

1:01 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

The existence of illegal organ harvesting in the 21st century is a stain on humanity and it ought to be on the conscience of those who are committing those heinous acts. The human body and the organs within it should be sacred. Every person should have the right to say what can or cannot be done with their own body.

When we talk about organ harvesting and illegal organ trading, however, we are not talking about a handful of individual criminals violating people's bodies. What goes on—for instance, in parts of China, as the member for Fremantle outlined—appears to be the systematic violation of the bodies of thousands of people, particularly political prisoners, each and every year. Courageous journalists, lawyers and activists—people like David Matas from Canada—have documented these shameful acts taking place in state-run civilian and military hospitals. I must say when I first heard about these allegations I did not believe them to be true until I spent a great deal of time going into, and also hearing, some of the extraordinary admissions from people. I have to say it again: state run civilian and military hospitals were the places where these were practiced.

The University of Sydney is thinking at the moment of reappointing Huang Jiefu. He was on the university's faculty until it was exposed he had personally been involved in some of these forced organ transplants. Professor Jeremy Chapman of the university is one of his chief defenders. He wrote to him and said in Sunday's Sun Herald:

We have pressed Jiefu on what he did with respect to personal executed-prisoner surgery – the answer was once or twice in the 1990s but none since then …

Having such a person on the faculty at the University of Sydney is particularly odd for a medical faculty.

Organ harvesting is not confined to China. Black markets have arisen in other parts of Asia, not to mention Europe and in particular parts of the Balkans. If greed is the root of all evil though, nowhere is it more evident than in China's billion dollar organ-on-demand industry. The Beijing Red Cross reported in 2011 that there were only 37 people registered as organ donors and yet somehow 10,000 procedures take place in China each and every year. It is believed to be the second-highest rate of organ transplants in the world and perhaps unsurprisingly provides by far the shortest wait time for transplant recipients. Put simply, the numbers do not stack up.

I do note that China has made an effort. The China Daily reports that a voluntary organ donation system has been set up since the compulsory system was allegedly banned in January 2015. As of November last year, 4,384 voluntary organ donors, who donated 14,721 organs, had come into being. China began a voluntary organ donation program in 2010 and it has promoted the practice since 2013, but 10,000 versus even those 5,000 donors does not add up.

The removal of a living person's organs without consent is a fundamental abuse of their body and their rights as an individual. It is as simple as that. From what we can tell, the practice of organ harvesting in China seems to be restricted to political prisoners and, as such, I see this as far more than a health policy issue—I see this as more than a handful of individual criminals profiting from the illegal trade. This is something more—it is state-sponsored human rights abuse of political enemies in the cruellest way.

Some efforts have already been made on the international stage. Most recently, the World Health Organization adopted a resolution in 2010 endorsing the updated Guiding Principles on Human Cell, Tissue and Organ Transplantation. Amongst other things, those principles prohibit the sale of human organs without the written consent of the donors. China, in theory, says it subscribes to and abides by these principles. The issue I have, however, is not that the international law lacks sufficient rules but that national governments are not vocal enough in backing them up.

The Chinese government, as I said, claims to have ended these practices in January 2015. The rather insipid Australia-China dialogue on human rights should take this up, and perhaps some of the practices of voluntary organ donation in advanced countries should be suggested to the Chinese. In this pursuit we cannot quit. We must not quit. As the famous General MacArthur once said:

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.

Debate adjourned.


No comments