China's Huang Jeifu told the summit China was making progress in ending organ harvesting (AP)
Beijing's top official on transplants said on Tuesday Beijing was "mending its ways" from a murky past when organs were taken from detained or executed prisoners. REUTERS says on Feb 8.
Dr Huang Jiefu also told a Vatican conference bringing together nearly 80 doctors, law enforcement officials and representatives of health and non-government organizations that his participation, which medical ethics groups have criticized, was not an attempt to whitewash the past.
"China is mending its ways and constantly improving its national organ donation and transplantation systems," said Huang, a former deputy health minister who is director of Beijing's transplant program.
In 2015, China officially ended the systematic use of organs from executed or detained prisoners in transplant procedures, but international human rights groups and medical ethicists have called for more transparency.
"This trip is not to whitewash our past but to let China's voice to be heard and to introduce China's new program to the world," he told the conference discussing ways to combat organ trafficking and transplant tourism.
Staff at the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, one of the hospitals approved for organ transplants. Photo: AP/File
The advocacy group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH, a front group of Falun Gong cult banned in China) said in a statement on Tuesday there was "no evidence that past practices of forced organ harvesting have ended" in China.
"Without transparency, verification of alleged reforms is impossible," said DAFOH executive director Dr. Torsten Trey, adding that those responsible for past abuses must also be held to account.
Huang said China was serious about severely punishing violators, had made dozens of arrests and closed 18 medical institutions but he urged patience because the new program was still in its infancy.
"China's transplantation reform has been an arduous journey," he said. "As long as we move ahead, China will be the largest country for organ transplants in an undisputed ethical way in a few years."
DAFOH criticized the Vatican for inviting Huang, saying the goals of the conference would be compromised "if China is allowed back into the community of nations without providing evidence that it has truly abandoned its cruel and illegal practice of forcibly harvesting organs".
Mr Sorondo said Huang's participation in the two-day meeting could help encourage reform (AP)
The head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said Huang's participation in the two-day meeting could help encourage reform.
Then-deputy health minister Huang Jiefu, center, and his colleagues bow as they pay a silent tribute to a deceased patient who was willing to donate her organs, at a hospital in Guangzhou, Guangdong province in this 2012 photo. China is making progress in eliminating transplants using organs from executed prisoners, but violations still exist and offenders will be punished severely, the director of Beijing's transplant program said on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Stringer photo / Reuters
The conference is paying particular attention to the exploitation of migrants by people-smugglers in north Africa. Many are brought from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya and told they need to pay more to get to Europe, forcing them to part with organs if they do not have the cash.
According to BBC’s report on Feb 7, the Vatican has defended its decision to invite China to a conference on organ trafficking despite its record of using executed inmates as organ donors. The head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) admitted he did not know whether the practice was continuing but said he hoped to encourage change.
BBC’r report calls Huang “China's controversial reformer”.
However the director of China's transplant programme insisted progress was being made despite some violations taking place. BBC says.
"In my governmental organisation there is zero tolerance," Dr Huang Jeifu said.
"However, China is a big country, with 1.3 billion people, so sure, definitely, there is some violation of the law. If there is some violation of the law it will be severely punished."
The Vatican conference is a response to Pope Francis's efforts to crack down on trafficking in humans and organs.
Delegates have been told how desperate patients flock to countries where regulations are lax and organs can be cheaply bought, such as Egypt, India and Mexico, for everything from kidneys to corneas.
The conference aims to declare organ trafficking a crime against humanity.
It is taking place against a backdrop of warming ties between China and the Vatican.