A leading Chinese health official, Dr Huang Jiefu, who, by his own admission, has been involved in using organs from executed prisoners, could lose his honorary professorship at the University of Sydney.
Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, of the university’s medical school, has written to the university’s vice-chancellor, requesting that the university revoke the honorary professorship given to Dr Huang.
Dr Huang served for 12 years until recently as Vice-Minister of Health in China. Before that, in the 1980s, he had been trained in organ transplantation at the University of Sydney.
He was a senior official in China’s health ministry when the numbers of transplants in China increased exponentially after 2000, despite the lack of a public organ donation system.
Dr Huang Jiefu stated in 2006 that up to 90 per cent of organs used in transplantations stemmed from executed prisoners. He is a leading liver transplant surgeon in China.
According to virtually all published guidelines, the use of organs from executed prisoners is considered unethical. The University of Sydney endorses these ethical guidelines as well as the Declaration of Istanbul, which condemns the use of organs from executed prisoners.
In 2012, the World Medical Association also said that the use of organs from executed prisoners in a country where the death penalty is practised is unacceptable.
There is an even darker aspect of this matter. After the suppression and arrest of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in 1999, many disappeared and were reported by the government to have died.
Two Canadian human rights lawyers, David Matas and David Kilgour, have shown that the imprisoned practitioners were systematically killed for their organs.
In 2006, Kilgour and Matas arranged calls to 17 hospitals in China. They found that doctors admitted to the use of organs from executed Falun Gong practitioners.
They also interviewed Falun Gong practitioners who had been incarcerated at the time, and had fled to the West.
These prisoners reported that, unlike other inmates, they had been subject to blood tests and health checks which are the precursors to organ-harvesting.
Additionally, Chinese transplant hospitals at the time were openly advertising that they had a ready supply of organs — even guaranteeing an immediate replacement organ if the original transplant was rejected by a patient’s body.
In countries such as Australia, with a better health system than China’s, patients often have to wait years for a compatible organ. In China, patients have to wait just days or weeks. The conclusion is obvious.
As Vice-Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu could have chosen to not participate in unethical transplantations and halted his transplant activities until an ethical voluntary donor system was established; yet he continued to perform transplants, being reported as recently as November 2012 to perform an average of two liver transplants every week in China.
It is almost inconceivable that a transplant surgeon who violated internationally-recognised ethical guidelines throughout his career would be awarded with two honorary professorships at the oldest and most prestigious academic institution in Australia.
Despite the evidence against him, Dr Huang has the support of some academics at the university, based on his public statements that China should move away from using the organs of executed criminals, and that Chinese prisoners must agree to donate their organs before they die.
In what was described as “a rare press briefing to … a small group of journalists”, Dr Huang told ABC television’s 7:30 Report: “Our government already has regulations related to recovering organs from death-row inmates. Consent is not presumed consent — written consent from the prisoner himself or herself as well as his or her family [is needed].” (ABC 7:30 Report May 21, 2013).
Dr Huang told the ABC that many doctors at Sydney University supported him, despite the petition against him.
“I can show you a statement from Sydney University medical school. I’ve got strong support from there,” he said.
This is true. Professor Bruce Robinson, dean of the university’s medical school and the man who authorised Dr Huang’s appointment to honorary professor, told the ABC that the university supports his efforts to reform the Chinese organ transplant program.
The professor of transplant surgery, Richard Allen, said on the ABC program on April 30 that Dr Huang is seen in the transplant community around the world as “an absolute champion and a hero”.
“I’ve known Huang since 1987,” Professor Allen said. “He knew that the use of organs from executed prisoners were wrong [but at the] time was a junior surgeon, and he was part of the system and did what his seniors did.”
In fact, Dr Huang Jiefu was not a junior surgeon, but one of the architects of China’s systematic harvesting of organs from executed prisoners.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.