Important ethical questions are raised by the growth of “transplant tourism”. The long waiting lists for body parts in many developed countries, and the amount that patients are prepared to pay for a transplant, raise the danger that poorer local people will be coerced into illegal organ donations.
Five bioethicists have published their opinion in a column entitled ‘Time for a boycott of Chinese science and medicine pertaining to organ transplantation’ in leading UK medical journal, The Lancet
. They call for a boycott of Chinese scientists over its ‘barbaric human organ market’.
Transplant tourists find their way to China, frustrated by the long waiting times in their own countries and attracted by the competitive price. The article argues that it is clear from the numbers provided by China that not all of the organs for Chinese citizens and transplant tourists are provided by voluntary consenting donors. The source of many of these organs is executed prisoners whose consent is either non-existent or ethically invalid and whose demise might be timed for the convenience of the waiting recipient.
The authors issue a call to action: “Despite the continuation of organ donation by execution, the international medical and scientific community has done little to make its moral abhorrence of this state of affairs widely known. Presentations about transplantation in China continue to be made at international conferences, publications about the experience of transplantation in China appear in peer-reviewed journals, and pharmaceutical companies continue their marketing efforts and engage in sponsoring research involving various aspects of transplantation in China. The time has come to bring normal scientific and medical interchange with China concerning transplantation to a halt. We call for a boycott on accepting papers at meetings, publishing papers in journals, and cooperating on research related to transplantation unless it can be verified that the organ source is not an executed prisoner. These steps are admittedly challenging. But the international biomedical community must firmly and boldly challenge the status quo — the barbarous practice of obtaining organs from executed prisoners.”
Despite assurances that the practice is winding down, they suggest that China persists in using organs from executed prisoners. One of the authors, Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, says that the controversial practice will not stop unless international pressure is applied. He says China is building an international medical city to capitalise on the medical tourism market with facilities for organ transplants. He declares: ”Using organs from prisoners who are executed on demand to get parts for rich visitors may bring currency to China but it also ought to bring shame. The Chinese people who need transplants deserve a better system, as do the hapless prisoners who are being victimized. The rest of the world should help stop it.”