House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016

Private Members' Business

China: Organ Harvesting

12:50 pm

Photo of Melissa ParkeMelissa Parke (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes continuing concerns in relation to the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners in the People's Republic of China, in addition to allegations of an illegal organ harvesting trade in other parts of Asia and in Europe; and

(2) calls on the government to:

(a) acknowledge the illegal trade of organs as a significant health policy and human rights issue in the international community and publicly condemn organ transplant abuses;

(b) engage in international dialogue, in a human rights context, relating to the harvesting of organs, ensuring cooperation to protect the poorest and most vulnerable groups from organ transplant tourism and the illegal sale of tissues and organs through the development of tools to ensure traceability of organs;

(c) consider federal measures and encourage Australian states and territories to consider measures to ensure that trafficking of human organs is addressed;

(d) urge the Chinese government to immediately cease the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners;

(e) support and encourage universal adoption and implementation of the WHO Guiding Principles on Human Organ Transplantation regarding protection of donors, transparency and the implementation of quality systems including vigilance and traceability; and

(f) urge the Chinese government to increase efforts to set up an organised and efficient national register of organ donation and distribution, and to cooperate with requests from the United Nations Special Rapporteurs and other international bodies and governments for investigations into the system.

Many Westerners, including Australians, are travelling overseas to have organ transplants rather than waiting years for organs to become available at home. While this is a potentially dangerous operation for the organ recipient it is almost always fatal for the donor, if they are in China. As we heard on the SBS Dateline program, 'Human harvest' last year, at least 10,000 organs are transplanted in China every year yet there is only a tiny number of people on the official donor register.

Today, China is ranked second in the world for procedures of this kind, and there is no question that organs are overwhelmingly sourced from executed prisoners or from live prisoners of conscience who are held for their beliefs or minority status. As far back as 1994, Human Rights Watch made the following report:

A growing worldwide trade in human organs, whereby the poor in countries such as India and Brazil are induced to sell their body parts to meet the transplant needs of high-paying customers, largely from the developed countries, has been widely condemned because of its financially exploitative nature and its abuse of medical ethics. China's extensive use of executed prisoners as a source of organs for medical transplantation purposes, a problem which so far has received somewhat less international attention, likewise creates serious cause for concern on a number of basic human rights grounds.

The consent of prisoners to use their organs after death, although required by law, appears rarely to be sought.

…   …   …

According to Chinese legal authorities, some executions are even deliberately mishandled to ensure that the prisoners are not yet dead when their organs are removed.

The lack of adequate judicial safeguards in China, coupled with the existence of government directives allowing political offenders and other nonviolent criminals to be sentenced to death, virtually guarantee that a significant number of wrongful executions will take place. Some of those unfairly sentenced may be unwitting organ donors.

The use of condemned prisoners' organs involves members of the medical profession in the execution process in violation of international standards of medical ethics. Chinese doctors participate in pre-execution medical tests, matching of donors with recipients and scheduling of operations, often on a first-paid, first-served basis. Surgeons are commonly present at execution grounds to perform on-site removal of vital organs.

…   …   …

The practice of using executed prisoners' organs for transplant purposes creates an undesirable incentive for the authorities to refrain from either abolishing capital punishment or reducing the scope of its application.

The practice in China of taking organs from people without consent, including from death-row inmates and political prisoners, and of effectively allowing a system of organ harvesting to operate without check is truly one of the modern horrors. Despite official commitments in recent times to stamp out this abhorrent abuse there is ongoing evidence and testimony that the state-sanctioned harvesting of human organs continues, often in circumstances that constitute torture.

Whistleblower accounts of these cruel practices are horrific. In a 2006 public rally held in Washington DC, one whistleblower gave an account of a secret death camp called Sujiatun, which is apparently one of 36 such camps within China: 'There is a hidden facility in Sujiatun that held a large number of Falun Gong practitioners. During their detention their corneas and internal organs, including bone marrow, were being harvested while they were still alive. Even their hair was used to make wigs, and their skin and fat were being traded. Their remains were finally thrown into a crematory, which left no trace.' An independent investigation conducted by a former Canadian Secretary of State, David Kilgour, and Winnipeg human rights lawyer, David Matas—both nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in this area—confirmed the practice in their 2006 report.

China, after many years of denying the practice, has in recent years declared it would no longer harvest organs from executed prisoners. However, transplant rates are continuing to grow without a corresponding growth in legitimate organ donation rates.

In December 2013 the European parliament expressed deep concern over persistent and credible reports of systematic state sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong practitioners, and called on the Chinese government to end the practice of organ harvesting from prisoners immediately. The Canadian parliament and US congress have also condemned the unconscionable practice. The United Nations special rapporteurs have called on the Chinese government to account for the sources of organs used in transplant practices, and the World Medical Association and American Society of Transplantation have called for sanctions on Chinese medical authorities.

Numerous countries have moved to prohibit their citizens from travelling to China for organ transplants. The Australian government has endorsed the non-binding 2008 Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, and in 2013 the Senate passed a motion urging the government to oppose the unethical practice of organ harvesting in China.

China is a long way from establishing an ethical, legal, transparent and properly regulated organ donation and transplant system. As a self-proclaimed respecter of human rights, it is incumbent on Australia to do everything possible through legislation, international diplomacy and education to ensure that the measures referred to in the motion are taken and that illegal organ harvesting is brought to an end.

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder?

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

Yes, I second it.

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You reserve your right to speak?

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

I do.

12:56 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise and support the motion from the member for Fremantle. I congratulate her on her interest in this area and for speaking up against the practice of forced organ harvesting and the trafficking of organs worldwide. I note that the World Health Organization estimates that currently 10 per cent of all transplants worldwide are the result of trafficking.

But there are just a few comments that I think need to be made in relation to point (f), where the member for Fremantle's motion 'urges the Chinese government to increase efforts to set up an organised and efficient national register of organ donation and distribution and to cooperate with requests from the United Nations special rapporteurs and other international bodies and governments for investigations into the system'. That is correct, but if we are going to lecture the Chinese government about how they should set up an organ donation scheme we need to make sure that we have our own house in order. Sadly, our organ donation programs here in Australia are far below where they should be.

Mr Deputy Speaker, here are some numbers to give you an idea of how we compare internationally. Currently we are ranked only 22nd in the world by rates of organ donations. We are a long way back, at 22nd. The best way to measure organ donation rates in a country is by deceased donors per million of population. The leading nation in the world is Spain, which in 2014 had 35.7 deceased donors per million. But Australia, down at 22nd position, only had 16 deceased donors per million of population. That is less than half.

When we are doing so poorly, it is very difficult for us to come in here and lecture China. In fact, because our rate of donation is so low, it is estimated that it is costing Australia around 55 deaths every year, with over 1,000 other people suffering on dialysis, suffering through waiting on the organ donation list. We should be doing and we could be doing so much better. We need to make it a national priority to lift, and lift dramatically, the rate of organ donation in Australia.

I would suggest that it is a moral requirement of all Australians to donate their organs. If we are to live here in Australia and enjoy the benefits of the sacrifices of past generations, if we are to enjoy all the benefits of scientific discovery, modern hospitals and medical services that we have available to us, we have a moral obligation to donate our organs rather than see them being cremated or buried with us.

The other issue we have is that obviously something has gone dramatically wrong with our organ donation program. We know that $240 million has been spent since 2008 on the implementation of a program to lift our organ donation rates to try and get them somewhere up around world's best practice, and yet we are still less than half of where the nation of Spain is. What that means is that 1,200 Australians every year are missing out on a transplant because our rate of organ donation is so low as compared with Spain.

I congratulate the member for Fremantle. I concur with the comments in her motions, and the intent of her motions. But before we can lecture any nation in the world we must get our own house in order when it comes to organ donations.

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.