The Government must place a ban on Irish citizens travelling to China for organ transplants if it is serious about combating the growing trend of forced organ harvesting, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.
Between 60,000 and 100,000 organ transplants are carried out in China every year with hundreds of thousands of political prisoners being exploited and often killed for their sale of their internal organs, according to the latest research into organ harvesting.
Human rights defender Ethan Gutmann told the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that prisoners of conscience, including members of the Falun Gong tradition, continued to be targeted, arrested and killed for their organs.
“It’s only China that can come up with a liver within four hours,” he said, adding that only through “a stable of living human beings” could you access a liver within a few hours.
“These are mainly prisoners of conscience, arrested without due process, who cannot be charged with any capital crimes. They’re not violent but being put to death.”
Despite claims from the Chinese government that transplants from living humans are no longer in practice, Mr Gutmann said China’s $8-9 billion transplant industry remains “in business as usual”.
Dr Enver Tohti, who once carried out a transplant from a live prisoner, condemned China’s “buy-one-get-one-free” organ transplantation industry. He recalled how he was ordered to transplant a liver and two kidneys from a man who had just been shot when he was working as a young doctor in northwest China in the mid-90s.
“The man was alive. He tried to resist my scalpel cut but too weak to avoid my action. I did not feel guilty, in fact, I did not feel anything but a fully programmed robot doing its task. I thought I was carrying my duty to eliminate the enemy of the state.”
Also speaking before the committee, Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas called for the Chinese government to make its transplant registries publically available and said independent external investigators should be allowed access to hospital patient and organ donor files. Mr Matas said the International Committee of the Red Cross should be granted access to Chinese prisons and called for an end to the persecution of prisoners of conscience including Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighurs and House Christians.
He added that any foreigner travelling to China for an organ transplant should be prosecuted and that legislation should be introduced in Ireland banning the advertising, trafficking and trading of organs.
Dr James McDaid highlighted the importance of organ transplants in saving lives but warned that long waiting lists were driving people to seek organs beyond the national pool from deceased donors. The waiting time for an organ varies between one and four years, while 5 to 20 per cent of waitlist patients die while on the waiting list.
“Quality of life on the waitlist is often very poor because of the severe symptoms of end-stage organ failure,” said Dr McDaid. “Unscrupulous medical teams and middlemen brokers exploit vulnerable donors and recipients for selfish profit.”
He said transplant tourism is also present in Pakistan, Egypt and India but that China is the only country where prisoners are executed for the sale of organs.
There are currently 439 people in Ireland on the kidney transplant waiting list and another 18 people waiting for kidney-pancreas and heart-kidney transplants, according to Dr Conall O’Seaghdha from the National Kidney Transplant Service. He warned that some patients spend more than a decade waiting for their transplant.
While there is no official data available, Dr O’Seaghdha confirmed there had been cases of Irish patients travelling abroad for kidney transplants before returning to Ireland for post-transplant care. He said most of these patients were born outside Ireland but that he was aware of at least one Irish citizens engaging in transplant tourism.