A matter of life or death: China moves towards changing its transplantation practices

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 08 November 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:961
  1. Jane Parry
  1. Hong Kong

    China is changing—and changing fast. And, partly to gain acceptance on the global health stage, it has begun to tackle one of its more controversial healthcare practices: using organs harvested from executed prisoners for transplantation.

    For Zhonghua Klaus Chen, vice chairman of the Chinese Organ Transplantation Society, a recent statement by the Chinese Medical Association against the use of executed prisoners' organs is a welcome boost to efforts to bring Chinese transplantation practices into line with international standards.

    Having trained in Germany and the United Kingdom, including a stint with Cambridge University under the transplantation surgeon Roy Calne, Professor Chen became convinced that prisoners were not in a position to give free consent for organ donation after their deaths.

    “As part of the organ procurement team in Cambridge I was very proud of what I was doing,” he said, “yet, in China, surgeons using prisoners' organs can't discuss their work with international colleagues. Execution is the dark side of human nature, and transplantation is the glorious side of health care. They can't be easily bundled together, and that should be stopped.”

    He was delighted when the practice was deemed unacceptable by the Chinese Medical Association in October, during the World Medical Association's annual general assembly in Copenhagen. The Chinese association came out against the use of organs harvested from executed prisoners for transplantation, stating that the organs should be …

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