Researchers find Chinese organ harvesting before brain death
April 8, 2022 — In a deep dive into Chinese-language medical journals, two researchers from Australia and Israel revealed more about forced organ harvesting in China.
The search for documents indicating that the organs people need to live are harvested from executed prisoners who did not give their permission – a practice that the Chinese Tribunal confirmed “beyond reasonable doubt” in 2020 – Jacob Lavee, MD, an Israeli heart transplant surgeon, and Matthew Robertson, a doctoral student at the Australian National University, discovered something even more shocking: that organs are being removed from patients who are still alive.
The paper “bring[s] attention to a huge human rights violation,” says Arthur Caplan, PhD, chief of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “What they reported has been going on for many, many years. The data shows very clearly that China does far more transplants than it has cadaveric organ donors,” he says.
The research, published in the American Journal of Transplantation, involved a detailed analysis of thousands of Chinese-language articles describing transplants. He identified 71 articles in which transplant surgeons describe the start of organ removal surgery before declaring their patients brain dead.
“What we found were inappropriate, illegitimate, nonexistent, or false claims of brain death,” Robertson says, explaining that this violates what’s called the dead donor rule, which is fundamental to transplant ethics.
“The surgeons wrote that the donor was brain dead, but according to all we know about medical science, he couldn’t be brain dead because no apnea test was performed,” explains Robertson, referring to a test that determines whether the brainstem is active.
Robertson and Lavee painstakingly documented “incriminating phrases” in each of the 71 articles, proving that brain death did not occur before the organ removal procedure began.
“There were two criteria on which we claimed a declaration of problematic brain death,” says Robertson, who translated from Chinese. “One was that the patient was not ventilated and was only intubated after being declared brain dead, the other was that the intubation had taken place immediately before the start of the operation. “
“We showed for the first time that transplant surgeons are the executioners – that the mode of execution is organ harvesting. These are self-execution admissions of the patient,” says Lavee, of the University of Tel Aviv.
“It was breathtaking,” he says. “But the more we read these articles, the more we saw that this was a trend…And they didn’t come out of just one medical center, they’re spread all over China.”
For the analysis, Robertson reviewed 124,770 medical papers from official Chinese databases between 1980 and 2020. The 71 papers revealing problematic brain death came from 56 hospitals (including 12 military) in 33 cities across 15 provinces, they reported. A total of 348 surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other medical workers or researchers were listed as authors of these publications.
Why would these medical workers publish such self-incriminating evidence? Researchers say it’s not clear. “They don’t think anyone reads that stuff,” suggests Robertson. “Sometimes it’s revealed in just five or six characters in an 8-page article.”
NYU’s Caplan added that China’s well-documented and lucrative involvement in transplant tourism “means you have to have a donor ready when the potential recipient shows up, you have to have a matching organ available, and that’s hard to do while waiting for a corpse donor.”
Caplan and the researchers called on academic institutions and medical journals to resume their previous boycotts of Chinese transplant publications and speakers, but as long as China denies these practices, economic and political leaders will turn a blind eye.
“In the past, I don’t think the issue of the involvement of Chinese medical professionals in the execution of donors has been taken as seriously as it should have been,” Robertson says. “I certainly hope that with the publication of this article in the field journal, that will change.”