Friday, February 10, 2017

Vatican conference on organ trafficking and transplant tourism

A recent meeting at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican:
Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism resulted in a statement and a number of news stories.  Here are several that caught my eye, with divergent views on the situation in China and how it is changing:

From the NY Times: Debate Flares Over China’s Inclusion at Vatican Organ Trafficking Meeting
"China has admitted that it extracted organs from death row prisoners for decades, in what critics have called a serious violation of the rights of inmates who cannot give genuine consent. Since Jan. 1, 2015, Chinese officials have said they no longer use prisoners’ organs, though doubts persist.

“We urge the summit to consider the plight of incarcerated prisoners in China who are treated as expendable human organ banks,” wrote the 11 signatories, who included Wendy Rogers of Macquarie University in Australia; Arthur Caplan of the New York University Langone Medical Center; David Matas and David Kilgour, both Canadian human rights lawyers; and Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from the western Chinese region of Xinjiang."

China moves to stop taking organs from prisoners, WHO says
"The World Health Organization says China has taken steps to end its once-widespread practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners but that it’s impossible to know what is happening across the entire country.

At a Vatican conference on organ trafficking this week, a former top Chinese official said the country had stopped its unethical program, but critics remain unconvinced.

In an interview Thursday, WHO’s Jose Ramon Nunez Pena said he personally visited about 20 hospitals in China last year and believes the country has reformed. But he acknowledged that it was still possible “there may still be hidden things going on.” China has more than 1 million medical centers, although only 169 are authorized to do transplants.

Nunez Pena said he had seen data including organ transplant registries and was convinced the country was now shifting away from illegally harvesting organs.

“What is clear to me is that they’re changing,” he said. “But in a country as huge as China, we can’t know everything.”
"Campbell Fraser, an organ trafficking researcher at Griffith University in Australia, agreed the trends over the past few years have shown a drop in the number of foreigners going to China for transplants and an increase of organ seekers heading to the Middle East.

At a press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Italy following the two-day Vatican organ conference, Fraser said migrants — including Syrians, Somalis and Eritreans — sometimes resort to selling off a kidney to pay traffickers to get them or their families to Europe.

Egypt is where the biggest problem is at the moment,” he said, adding that it has the best medical facilities in the region and can perform the live donor surgeries.

He estimated as many as 10 such illicit transplants could be happening per week, though he had no statistics and said he based his research largely on anecdotal information from recipients, law enforcement, doctors and even some organ “brokers.”

Fraser said he has access to transplant patient “chat boards” because he himself had a kidney transplant in his native Australia in 2003.

Nunez Pena said it was likely that organ trafficking would find its way to conflict-plagued regions.

“We’re hearing about a lot of problems in Egypt, Pakistan and the Philippines,” he said, predicting that authorities were poised to break up an organ smuggling ring in Egypt in the next few weeks. “Wherever you have vulnerable people, you will see these kinds of problems.”


From Science:

Study retraction reignites concern over China’s possible use of prisoner organs

A journal has decided to retract a 2016 study because of concerns that its data on the safety of liver transplantation involved organs sourced from executed prisoners in China. The action, taken despite a denial by the study’s authors that such organs were used, comes after clinical ethicist Wendy Rogers of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues authored a letter to the editor of Liver International on 30 January, calling for the paper’s retraction in the “absence of credible evidence of ethical sourcing of organs.”
For years, Chinese officials have come under fire for allegedly allowing the use of organs from executed prisoners for transplants, including for foreigners coming to the country for so-called medical tourism. In January 2015, it explicitly banned the practice and set up a volunteer donation system, but doubts persist that much has changed.
The disputed study—published online in October 2016—analyzed 563 consecutive liver transplantations performed before the ban (from April 2010 to October 2014) at a medical center in China. Suspicious, Rogers organized the protest letter to the journal. “Publication of data from prisoners is ethically inappropriate given that it [is] not possible to ensure that the prisoners freely agreed either to donate their organs, or to be included [in] a research program,” she tells ScienceInsider.

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