Biology 42 – Human Biology (Spring 2007)
China Organ Harvest Discussion
[ Students and professors, please read. ]
Discussion Topic: In China prisoners who are executed have kidneys removed for transplantation. Is this ethical? Should doctors in the US give ongoing medical care to Americans who received kidneys from Chinese prisoners? Why or why not?
It is unethical for China to harvest organs without consent. Besides the fact that harvesting organs from any human without consent is unethical, China’s behavior is worse when you consider that 1) their prisoners most likely share the traditions of those Chinese who require the body to be whole at death, and 2) China, a communist government, imprisons people who are innocent (see ‘2’ below).
1) An article in The Times in 2005 explains the main reason for China’s using prisoners: “The supply of organs in China is severely restricted because of religious traditions that require the body to be whole when it enters the afterlife.” Would it not be safe to assume that their prisoners share those traditions?
2) In China, practitioners of Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation practice of the Buddhist school, prisoners of conscience (denied government protection, victims of human rights violations), also have their organs harvested – and afterwards, though some are still breathing, the prisoners can be incinerated.
Though the Chinese government denies that it harvested executed prisoners’ organs, Luc Noel of WHO said, “China approved in March a draft law for clearer guidelines on legal transplants. It had begun limiting ‘transplant tourism’ last year,” and, as the article in the link below mentions, it is not the only country that profits from transplant tourism…
But then there is the question of – as long as consent is given, would an “organ trade” be a bad thing? So far it is done in the U.S. on a volunteer, donation-basis, which explains the shortage. If profit were involved, more would be willing to give up a kidney, but more instances of illegal harvesting would be motivated by greed as well, and available organs might become scarcer than previously, if people are not willing to donate for free because they know they can profit from it, and hospitals, research facilities, et cetera, are not willing to pay.
This reminds me of the discussion earlier in the semester on who owns (and therefore profits from) tissues. In that discussion, too, was the side-issue of informed consent… but the tissues were “leftovers” whereas in organ-donation, you are not talking about leftovers.