Bioethics News

Some things never change

Hopes for a reform in China’s organ donation practices have faded, with revelations that the Chinese government is simply “reclassifying” organs obtained from executed prisoners.

Since the faux-announcement of an end to organ donation from prisoners in January, the state-controlled Chinese media has repeatedly suggested that the government is disguising inmates’ organs as “altruistic donations” from free citizens.

As early as January, the People’s Daily was reporting that prisoner’s would still be allowed to donate their organs “to atone for their crimes”. The head of China’s organ donation committee, D. Huang Jiefu, said he was confident these ‘voluntary’ donations would prevent any shortfall as a result of the new policy.

In March, Dr. Huang told The Beijing Times, “Once the organs from death-row prisoners who have voluntarily donated are included in our national distribution system, they are counted as voluntary citizen donations.”

According to Huige Li, a Chinese-born doctor at the University of Mainz, the government has merely performed an administrative trick. “They just reclassified prisoners as citizens”, he said.

“The practice there is unethical and should be changed to an ethical practice,” he said of China. “Administrative tricks don’t make it ethical.”

Dr. Torsten Trey executive director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, fears that the practice of harvesting prisoners’ organs may never end.

‘‘Some sourcing pathways are altered,’’ Dr. Trey told the New York Times in an email. ‘‘Some previous channels are closed. Others are kept open.’’

Since ‘‘prisoners are under the control of the state, in contrast to free citizens who might enter an organ donation contract on the black market, we have to assume that — at least partially — policy makers, police, prison guards and military personnel are aware and backing the practice,’’ he said.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.