Trafficking danger for transplant professionals: report

The risk of complicity in organ trafficking and forced organ harvesting by medical institutions and professionals practising in transplantation medicine has been highlighted today in a report by international human rights law firm Global Rights Compliance.

The legal advisory report, entitled Do No Harm: Mitigating Human Rights Risks When Interacting with International Medical Professionals and Institutions in Transplantation Medicine, outlines the legal risks of collaborating with transplantation professionals in countries where it is reported that high levels of organ trafficking and unethical organ transplantation are taking place, such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Egypt – and particularly China, where a state-backed organ harvesting programme is estimated to have a market value of $1bn per annum.

Organ harvesting is the act of killing a person for their organs. The report assesses a wide range of evidence, including the China Tribunal judgment which found in March 2020 that China’s state-sanctioned regime of forced organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity, and joint correspondence issued to the Chinese Government by 12 UN special rapporteurs and human rights experts in late 2021. The latter reviewed credible information that forced organ harvesting “targets a number of ethnic religious or linguistic minorities, such as Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians held in detention in different locations”.

In 2020 the China Tribunal exposed an elaborate state-sponsored programme where prisoners of conscience are incarcerated and killed to sustain a state-backed organ trade. It is suspected that a considerable number of medical institutions, medical practitioners and academics worldwide are still actively collaborating with China in transplant medicine, research and training, or considering future collaborations.

Global Rights Compliance urges the medical community to “immediately consider the legal ramifications of medical relationships with medical institutions and professionals who may engage in unethical organ transplantation, organ trafficking or forced organ harvesting”. Its report states that “entering and/or maintaining relationships with Chinese institutions entails the highest risk of complicity in international crimes”.

Alongside the report, Global Rights Compliance has published policy guidance providing medical institutions and professionals with guidance on how to develop, implement and evaluate minimum human rights due diligence processes to avoid contributing to human rights abuses and complicity in international crimes. It includes illustrative approaches, including minimum enquiries that must be made, in order to assess whether relationships with institutions may cause, contribute or be linked to unethical organ transplantation, organ trafficking and forced organ harvesting. It further calls for severing of ties with countries where prevention, mitigation and remediation is not possible.

Those potentially affected include universities, medical schools, hospitals, independent professional bodies, transplantation societies, focusing on a number of medical collaborations including clinical training, clinical research, grants and funding and the provision of medical equipment and drugs.

Managing partner Wayne Jordash QC commented: “Unfortunately the transplantation community can be complicit in unethical organ transplantation practices, often unknowingly. Our legal advisory report and policy guidance is aimed at helping the industry avoid involvement in forced organ harvesting and related violations. The medical community must join in the global effort to stamp out all types of unethical organ sourcing. Together, this trade in human misery must be stopped.”

Dr Julian Sheather, special adviser in ethics and human rights at the British Medical Association added: “Medical establishments including hospitals, research facilities, professional societies, funding bodies, companies and journals have an international responsibility to respect everyone’s human rights and must work to identify and resolve any harm they may cause or contribute to through their practice or be linked to through professional partnerships.”