UK patients should be banned from travelling to China for transplant surgery, the government has been told, before an inquiry into allegations of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
The call has so far been backed by 40 MPs from all parties before the next session of the independent China tribunal, which is investigating claims that detainees are being targeted by the regime. China dismisses the allegations as malicious rumours and insists that it adheres to international medical standards that require organ donations to be made by consent and without any financial charges.
Opening a Westminster Hall debate last week, the DUP MP Jim Shannon urged the UK government to consider imposing an organ tourism ban like those already enacted by Italy, Spain, Israel and Taiwan.
“It is wrong that people should travel from here to China for what is almost a live organ on demand to suit themselves,” Shannon, the MP for Strangford in Northern Ireland, said. “It is hard to take in what that means – it leaves one incredulous.
“It means someone can sit in London or in Newtownards and order an organ to be provided on demand. Within a month they can have the operation.
“We need to control that structurally, as other countries have, not simply because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is necessary to protect UK citizens from unwittingly playing a role in the horrifying suffering of religious or belief groups in China.”
The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC who was formerly a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, has been taking evidence about alleged mispractices from medical experts, human rights investigators and others.
It will hold a second round of hearings on 6 and 7 April in London. Its final judgment will be published on 13 June. China has been asked to participate but has declined to do so.
In an interim judgment released last December, the tribunal said: “In China forced-organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims … It is beyond doubt on the evidence presently received that forced harvesting of organs has happened on a substantial scale by state-supported or approved organisations and individuals.”
Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and some Christian sects. In 2014, China announced that it would stop removing organs for transplantation from executed prisoners.
It is not clear how many UK citizens have travelled to China for transplants. Waiting times for operations are said to be far shorter than in the west. One inquiry suggested that a liver transplant could be arranged privately at a Chinese hospital for $100,000.
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, who is also leading the campaign for a ban said during the Westminster debate: “Our government could inquire about the numbers of organ removals and their sources … They could reduce demand by banning organ tourism … This is not a case of a few voluntary organ transplants; it is a case of alleged mass killings through forced organ removal, of religious persecution, of grave allegations of crimes against humanity.”
Mark Field, the Foreign Office minister, acknowledged that there was a growing body of research, much of which was “very worrying” but he believed relatively few people in the UK chose to travel to China for organ transplants.
Introducing a travel ban, he said, would be difficult to police since it would be hard to establish whether people had travelled there for that purpose. Field said: “But, it is important that we make them aware that other countries may have poorer medical and ethical safeguards than the UK, and that travelling abroad for treatments, including organ transplants, carries fundamental risks.”
The Chinese embassy told the Guardian: “The Chinese government always follows the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years. On 21 March 2007, the Chinese state council enacted the regulation on human organ transplant, providing that human organ donation must be done voluntarily and gratis. We hope that the British people will not be misled by rumours.”
It cited article 7 of its regulation on human organ ransplant, which says: “The donation of human organs shall be made under the principle of free will and free of charge. A citizen shall be entitled to donate or not to donate his or her human organ; and any organisation or person shall not force, cheat or entice others into donating their human organs.”
Article 8 of the regulation states: “The citizen donating his or her human organ shall have full competency in civil act … Any organisation or person shall not donate or remove any human organ of a citizen who has disagreed with the donation of any of his or her human organs while alive.”