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Calls made for retraction of 400 scientific papers for the use of illegally transplanted organs

February 7, 2019

Photo: AFP

A new study has revealed that over 400 published research papers may be in violation of international ethical standards regarding the use of donor organs sourced from executed prisoners.

The study calls for a mass retraction of hundreds of research papers involving transplanted hearts, livers or lungs in mainland China.

Researchers from Macquarie University examined papers published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2017 using research from mainland China about Chinese organ transplants.

Human rights organisations have expressed concerns over China’s organ donation system, which reportedly uses organs taken from the bodies of executed prisoners although it has begun shifting to an opt-in harvesting scheme.

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The 445 studies on more than 85,000 transplants almost certainly include data linked to prisoners, the paper says, “given China’s acknowledgement that during this period executed prisoners were the principal organ donors”.

Organisations including the World Health Organisation and The Transplantation Society have condemned the use of organs transplanted from prisoners on death row, including research on such transplants, the paper says.

Its been found that 92.5% of the publications failed to state whether or not the transplanted organs were obtained from executed prisoners. Nearly all of them (99%) failed to report whether organ donors gave consent. In contrast, 73% of papers reported approval from an institutional ethics committee for the research reported in the paper.

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The China Tribunal also collected evidence from witnesses and experts that may help with any further action taken to address the issues that surround organ harvesting and any crimes committed by those that take part in the practice.

At this stage, the China Tribunal has not confirmed whether any crimes under international law have been committed. Yet, based on the witness and expert testimonies heard by the China Tribunal, it is clear that organ harvesting has ultimately led to the deaths of patients. The practice has a clear criminal character. Whether it is manslaughter or murder may be a matter of evidence that will need to be collected. Yet, it is clear that there is no legality to such a procedure. The tribunal’s full report is due this year.

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