Participants at a Vatican conference on organ trafficking challenged China to allow independent scrutiny to ensure it is no longer using organs from executed prisoners, saying Chinese assurances aren’t enough to prove the transplant program has been reformed. Sparks flew in the afternoon session of the meeting as China’s former vice health minister, Dr. Huang Jiefu, sought to assure the international medical community that China was “mending its ways” after declaring an end to the prisoner harvesting programme in 2015.
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“I am fully aware of the speculation about my participation in the summit,” Huang told the conference, citing “continuing concerns about the transplant activities.”
He provided scant data to rebut critics, however, showing only two slides indicating an increased number of living and deceased donors in recent years and China’s recent efforts to crack down on black market transplant activities.
Huang first publicly acknowledged the inmate harvesting organ program in 2005 and later said as many as 90 percent of Chinese transplant surgeries using organs from dead people came from executed prisoners.
He has spearheaded a reform effort and pledged that China put an end to the program in 2015. But doubts persist that China is meeting its pledge, given its lack of transparency, the severe shortage of organ donors and China’s longstanding black-market organ trade.
Huang’s colleague, Dr. Haibo Wang, stressed the sheer impossibility of trying to fully control China’s transplant activity since there are 1 million medical centers and 3 million licensed doctors operating in the country.
As a result, China proposed at the Vatican meeting that the World Health Organisation form a global task force to help crack down on illicit organ trafficking.
Dr. Jacob Lavee, president of Israel’s transplant society, insisted in response that WHO be allowed to conduct surprise inspections and interview donor relatives in China.
“As long as there is no accountability for what took place … there can be no guarantee for ethical reform,” he told the conference in a heated exchange.
He was joined by Dr. Gabriel Danilovitch, from the UCLA Medical Center, who challenged the Chinese delegation to declare straight out if prisoner organs were no longer used.
Wang countered that he and Huang spent the past 12 years battling critics inside China and out to reform the sector, and said China shouldn’t be singled out for spot WHO inspections.