• Many doubt China’s commitment to phasing out forced organ harvesting in the country.

Many doubt China’s commitment to phasing out forced organ harvesting in the country. (Photo : Getty Images)

For the first time, China attended an organ trafficking summit at the Vatican City on Feb. 7-8 to assure the international medical community that it is no longer using executed prisoners as organ donors.

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Dr. Huang Jiefu, former deputy health minister of health and the current head of the China Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, attended the two-day Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism that aims to expose human trafficking and seeks to find “moral and appropriate solutions” to the issue.

“This is the first time that China is invited to a summit on organ transplanting held by an authoritative international organization,” Huang was quoted by the Global Times.

Dr. Huang admitted he is aware of the speculation about his participation in the summit, citing “continuing concerns about the transplant activities”.

During the summit, Dr. Huang showed two slides indicating an increased number of living and deceased donors in recent years and China’s effort to stop black market activities.

Last year, Chinese surgeons committed to stop organ trafficking and said they will stop performing transplants if the organ came from an executed prisoner.

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) also released new and stricter rules for organ transplant surgeons, requiring them to have regular exams and must perform transplants in three years.

China’s Lack of Transparency

However, many are still in doubt whether China is meeting its pledge due to its ‘lack of transparency’ in public health. Most recent was the ‘cover up’ of the global outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

“They haven’t stopped the practice and won’t stop. They have a need for organ transplants that far outpace the availability of organs,” Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for East Asia for Amnesty International was quoted saying by The Guardian.

Bequellin added that while the number of prisoners China executes every year is a state secret, he estimates that it ranges from 3,000 to 7,000 people.

“The timing of the execution is--we think--sometimes dependent on the need of a particular transplant surgery. You will execute this person at this time on this day, because that is when the patient has to be ready,” Bequellin said.

‘Conference Was Meant to Be an Academic Exercise’

Medical ethics experts and human rights activists have reportedly criticized the move by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to invite Dr. Huang to attend the conference.

“Huang’s inclusion in the conference, where there could be a meeting with Pope Francis, risked giving a propaganda boost to China and an ‘air of legitimacy’ to its transplantation programme,” Wendy Rogers, a medical ethics expert at Macquarie University in Australia, was quoted by The Guardian.

Rogers, who also expressed her doubts that said practice has ceased in China, urged the summit to consider the plight of executed prisoners in China who were treated as human organ banks.

In response to Rogers, Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, an Argentine bishop and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences explained that the conference was meant to be an “academic exercise and not a reprise of contentious political assertions.”

Participants at the Vatican summit challenged China to allow independent scrutiny to prove it is no longer using organs from executed prisoners.

China’s Appointment of Senior Clergy

McClatchy website reported that Dr. Huang first publicly acknowledged the inmate harvesting organ program and later said as many as 90 percent of Chinese transplant surgeries using organs from dead people came from executed prisoners.

In 2007, Beijing issued its first regulation banning the trade of organs, but according to reports, trafficking remained common as the country suffers a drastic shortage of donated body parts.

In 2015, Dr. Huang spearheaded a reform effort and pledged that China would no longer use organs from executed prisoners.

Apart from organ trafficking, Beijing and the Vatican have not had diplomatic ties since 1951 on the issue of who should appoint senior clergy in China -- the pope, whom they refuse to accept the authority, or the Chinese Catholic community?