Senator NETTLE—Can you give any update on action by the Australian government in response to the allegations of organ harvesting in China?
Mr Baxter—This is an issue that we have done quite a lot of work on over a long period of time. There are a number of different aspects to this, as you would know. There is the issue of organ transplants generally in China. There are particular accusations that have been made by certain groups, particularly the Falun Gong supporters, on how the organ harvesting policy in China, allegedly, may have been applied to supporters of Falun Gong. There is the issue of allegations of harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for transplant. I would be happy to answer any questions on those that you might have.
Senator NETTLE—Can you give an update on each of those areas? I do not know what format you have the information in.
Mr Baxter—China’s State Council has introduced new regulations which have banned organ trading and strengthened the oversight of all transplants, including requiring written consent from donors from 1 May 2007. We certainly welcome those new regulations. Those regulations follow up on temporary regulations that were introduced by the Ministry of Health in July 2006. In discussions with our embassy in Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Health have advised us that the new regulations that have been passed have greater authority than the previous temporary regulations. According to the Ministry of Health, Chinese hospitals and doctors who perform organ transplants must conform to certain minimum medical and ethical standards, trade in organs is prohibited under the new regulations, and transplant surgery can be conducted only after obtaining the donor’s informed written consent.
These new regulations reaffirm the requirement for informed written consent from donors and they outline penalties for institutions and individuals involved in illegal or unauthorised transplants. Penalties, including fines, the revocation of individual medical practitioners’ practising certificates and the removal of official institutional authorisation to conduct organ transplants, apply under the new regulations. It is too early to assess the deterrence value of the penalties, but we recognise China’s new regulations as a positive step. So China has taken action to address the concerns that have been voiced over the past few years about the practice of organ transplants within China.
On the issue of allegations that organs were harvested from Falun Gong practitioners, it is the government’s position that we have not seen evidence that proves that these allegations are true. But, that said, we have urged the Chinese government to conduct an open and transparent investigation into those allegations and to publish the findings on those allegations. As yet they have not done so. But we would note that none of the major international human rights groups have made a judgement that the accusations have been proven as yet.
Senator NETTLE—We had some discussion at previous estimates about the David Kilgour report. Has there been any follow-up by the Australian government in response to that report?
Mr Baxter—We studied the report very carefully and met with Mr Kilgour when he was in Australia. As I said, we do not believe that the evidence provided in that report proved the allegations but, given the serious and disturbing nature of the allegations, we have urged China to investigate them.
Senator NETTLE—Can you give me an indication of how that has occurred—the urging of China to investigate them?
Mr Baxter—We have done that in our human rights dialogue with China, most recently in July 2006. We have also raised it, separately from the human rights dialogue, in our discussions with Chinese officials, both through our embassy in Beijing and here in Canberra.
Senator NETTLE—When is the most recent time that that would have been raised with the Chinese?
Mr Baxter—The most recent time would have been at the human rights dialogue in July
2006. But, as I mentioned, we have had an ongoing dialogue with the Ministry of Health in
Beijing through our embassy. As China has promulgated its new regulations, we have met with senior officials from the Chinese Ministry of Health to get as much detail as we can on how the new regulations are being implemented and the time frames in which they are being implemented.
Senator NETTLE—In your outline at the beginning you were talking about Falun Gong practitioners, ova or organ harvesting and prisoners. Is there any update that you can give us about Chinese prisoners and any organ harvesting from them?
Mr Baxter—China has acknowledged that organs from executed prisoners are used for transplants in China. We oppose this practice and would urge Australians to think twice before travelling to China for transplants. In discussions with our embassy in Beijing China’s Ministry of Health has made it clear to us that the new regulations, which I mentioned and which came into effect on 1 May, also require prisoners to provide written consent before their organs can be donated.
Senator NETTLE—Can you indicate how the Australian government is urging Australians to be careful or not travel to China for organ transplants?
Mr Baxter—What I said was that we would urge Australians to think twice before travelling to China for transplants. As you know, Australian citizens are not required to inform the government of the purpose of their private travel. There is no legislation in place that prevents Australians from travelling to any particular country to undergo any particular medical procedure, so the ability of the government to intervene in this area is limited.
Senator NETTLE—Is there any information, for example on the DFAT website, for people travelling to China that raises this issue with them?
Mr Baxter—I would have to defer to my consular colleagues who are responsible for our travel advice on that question. I think generally there is advice on the DFAT website about some of the problems that can attend to medical treatment in countries where the standards are not as high as in Australia.
CHAIR—Mr Smith, do you wish to add to that?
Mr Smith—The travel advice for China does advise Australians that the standard of medical care and the range of familiar medicines available in China and other destinations are often limited, particularly outside the major cities. Beyond that, the issue of receipt of organ transplants has not to our knowledge been a problem with Australians travelling to China. The travel advice is very much informed by the nature of the risks that Australians face so we have limited the language to the general formulation that I have mentioned.