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Calls To Trash Chinese Organ Transplant Research Over Death Row Harvest Fears

WARNING: Graphic Content

A world-first Australian study has shone a light on China's practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners, with calls for Chinese transplant research to be retracted over the legitimacy of the organ 'donation'.

A Macquarie University research group found that 99 percent of studies on China's organ transplants failed to report whether the donors had given consent for transplantation, while 92 percent of studies did not note whether the organs came from executed prisoners.

It also found some studies took place before China even had a volunteer donor program.

The findings, published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, have pushed lead researcher Wendy Rogers, a professor of clinical ethics, to call for the retraction of 440 studies on more than 85,000 transplants over the legitimacy of the organ donation.

"It's unethical to take organs from executed prisoners," Rogers told 10 daily.

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Amnesty International reported last year that China was the country with the most executions in 2017, with "thousands" of killings thought to have occurred.

"The true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret," Amnesty said.

Rogers said China's use of organs from executed prisoners was well-known and established, with some websites in the mid-2000s offering heart transplants online for US$150,000.

Amnesty activists march to the US consulate during a protest to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty in Hong Kong (LAURENT FIEVET/AFP/Getty Images)

"They would just kill people to get that transplant," she said.

While she said the country had become much more "careful" about their conduct nowadays, she said research on China's transplant program had not properly investigated or reported where 'donated' organs had come from.

"People on death row obviously aren't consenting, and China shouldn't have further benefits from murdering people," Rogers said.

"Does anyone police it? Is anyone monitoring this?"

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She said it was difficult to say how many Australians may have travelled to China out of desperation for an organ transplant, but that published and anecdotal data said the trend was occurring.

Research from the Transplant Society of Australia and New Zealand found that China was the top destination for Aussies travelling overseas for organ transplants, Rogers said.

However, she also noted these were "very small numbers" and it was unclear whether Australians were going there to take advantage of organs from prisoners.

Organ recipients in Australia can expect to wait years for a donation.

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"Organ transplantation is a big issue in Australia. The 2018 figures show an increase in donors, which is fantastic, but there are long waiting lists, like four years for a kidney if you don't have a live donor," Rogers said.

"Some Australians do go overseas for transplants. We're not the main country for transplant tourism by any means, but we’re part of an international community that is trying to stop organ trafficking."

"There's not many Australians going, particularly to China, but it's still a problem we should be concerned about."

A protest against organ harvesting in Canada (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rogers and her team have called for the retraction and investigation of 440 studies on China's program, and the banning of publication of research that uses material from executed prisoners.

"If we just ignore this and let China publish this unethical research, it says that we have rules but they don't have to follow them," she said.

"We need to be vigilant. One of the few ways to put on pressure is to ban research. China is priding itself on its research and having a skilled transplant community, which they do have, but we can say that 'until you comply with international rules about transparency, we're going to ban it'."