Tuesday May 21, 2019

Doctors Support China’s Pledge on Stopping the Harvest of Inmate Organs

Doubts persist that China is accurately reporting figures or meeting its pledge given its severe shortage of organ donors and China's long-standing black-market organ trade

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Inmate Organs
Participants are seen at the China International Organ Donation Conference, held at the ornate ballroom in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Oct. 17, 2016. VOA
  • Doctors from the World Health Organization and the Montreal-based Transplantation Society who were invited to the conference by China praised Chinese officials for reforms they have made in the transplant system
  • China is believed to perform more executions than any other country, though the government does not disclose how many
  • Dr. Philip O’Connell, the immediate past president of the Transplantation Society, told reporters later that he would work with doctors supporting reform in any country

Surgeons from around the world gathered at a conference in Beijing on Monday in China’s latest effort to fight persistent skepticism about whether its hospitals have stopped performing transplants with the organs of executed prisoners.

Doctors from the World Health Organization and the Montreal-based Transplantation Society who were invited to the conference by China praised Chinese officials for reforms they have made in the transplant system, including a ban put in place last year on using organs from executed inmates.

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Doubts persist that China is accurately reporting figures or meeting its pledge given its severe shortage of organ donors and China’s long-standing black-market organ trade. By its own figures, China has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the world, and even the system’s advocates say it needs hundreds of additional hospitals and doctors.

While China suppresses most discussions about human rights, government officials and state media have publicly talked about their commitment to ending a practice opposed by doctors and human rights groups due to fears that it promotes executions and coercion.

In a sign of the issue’s symbolic importance to China, the conference took place in an ornate, chandeliered ballroom inside the Great Hall of the People, the building next to Tiananmen Square that typically hosts foreign leaders and ceremonial Communist Party events.

Doctors at the conference Monday described meeting patients and visiting hospitals around the country, and said the recorded usage of drugs given to transplant patients lined up with China’s reported numbers of transplants.

Dr. Jose Nunez, an adviser on organ transplants to the World Health Organization, told the audience that he believed China was building the “next great” system.

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“You are taking this country to a leading position within the transplantation world,” he said.

Others offered praise for Chinese officials, but stopped short of saying whether they could confirm China had stopped using executed inmates’ organs.

“It’s not a matter for us to prove to you that it’s zero,” said Dr. Francis Delmonico, a longtime surgeon and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a matter for the government to fulfill what is the law, just as it is in the other countries of the world that we go to.”

China is believed to perform more executions than any other country, though the government does not disclose how many.

The former vice minister of health, Dr. Huang Jiefu, publicly acknowledged in 2005 that China harvested executed inmates’ organs for transplant, and a paper he co-authored six years later reported that as many as 90 percent of Chinese transplant surgeries using organs from dead people came from those put to death.

Huang has also responded to a report earlier this year that a Canadian patient apparently received a kidney from an executed inmate by announcing that the doctor and the hospital in question were suspended from performing more transplants.

A key impediment is that members of a donor’s immediate family have the right to veto any transplant once the person is dead. There is also a traditional aversion to the removal of body parts from the dead and a fear that donated organs could be exploited for monetary gain.

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Dr. Philip O’Connell, the immediate past president of the Transplantation Society, told reporters later that he would work with doctors supporting reform in any country.

“The options are that you completely isolate someone, which means that generally their practices get compounded, or you engage with them and you tell them your point of view and explain why it would be better for them to change,” O’Connell said. “That is, I think in the simple terms, what we’re doing.”(VOA)

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Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith (L) speaks to reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh, May 9, 2019. RFA

Rhona Smith, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, concluded her seventh visit to the Southeast Asian nation on Thursday with a list of recommendations for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of ways to improve human rights and make the country’s political space more inclusive. She advised the government to identify those most at risk of being left behind by development efforts, called for protections of the right to peaceful assembly and association, and urged authorities to avoid excessive use of force in the policing of assemblies. Smith also called for the release of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from detention, where he has been held while under investigation for “treason,” general legal reforms to ensure that all Cambodians have access to justice, and a greater operating space for civil society.

Despite her comprehensive investigation into the situation of human rights in Cambodia, government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed her recommendations as politically motivated, calling the fate of Kem Sokha a matter of the court and suggesting that NGOs in the country are “serving political purposes.” Smith spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday about her visit and discussed how the country’s government can better safeguard rights for all Cambodians.

RFA: My first question is about your impression or observation regarding the [request] to visit Kem Sokha. Would you have any kind of statement to make regarding this again?

Smith: I regret that I was unable to get permission in order to go and meet with … Kem Sokha and the investigating judge was not able to meet with me either.

RFA: What would be your purpose of visiting him, should you be allowed to meet him?

Smith: I’m an independent expert appointed by the human rights council. I should be able to meet with persons in detention anywhere in Cambodia.

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I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery. Pixabay

RFA: Do you think that Kem Sokha will be released any time soon?

Smith: In my view, Kem Sokha remains under detention and I’ve called upon the government and, indeed, the investigating judge to express my hope that Kem Sokha’s investigation is swiftly completed. It’s now been more than 18 months and either the trial can proceed or if there’s no … evidence for a trial, then the charges against him are definitively dropped.

RFA: Recently during your visit, the Battambang Court issued at least 26 warrants for 26 CNRP officials to appear before the court regarding their political activities. Do you think this is a breach of human rights in Cambodia amid your visit?

Smith: I believe it’s indicative of the lack of political space in Cambodia and I have concerns in that regard. And it is my hope that there will be a new opening for political culture in Cambodia based on dialogue and mutual respect.

RFA: Regarding these CNRP officials, of course, after the CNRP dissolution in late 2017, and also the reallocation of the seats of those elected commune councilors—5,007 commune councilors had to relinquish their positions to the ruling party and other parties—have you seen any progress in the democratic space in Cambodia since your last visit?

Smith: I see no tangible changes to the political space in Cambodia since my last visit.

RFA: In your last report in August, you made several recommendations—a lot of which concerned the freedom and human rights situation. During this visit, have you noticed any significant change or improvement based on those recommendations?

Smith: In most of the government meetings I have had, the government minister has taken time to update me on the changes that have been made since my last visit in their area of responsibility and also on responses to my recommendations.

RFA: So are you satisfied or, at least, what is your impression regarding these responses?

Smith: I think that there has been improvement in some areas of human rights in Cambodia since my last visit, and I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery.

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If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. Pixabay

RFA: Back to what you have indicated, time and again, that peace and prosperity are in line with human rights, respect and democracy. Do you still maintain this position?

Smith: Yes, it is still my view that peace without justice is unsustainable and development without freedoms will risk leaving people behind.

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RFA: What would be your call for the government of Cambodia to do now, based on what you feel are the priorities during this visit?

Smith: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals. If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. (RFA)