Ethical concerns about Chinese organ transplants

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A University of Auckland researcher has raised ethical concerns about cases where New Zealand patients may travel to China for an organ transplant. She writes that while Chinese officials have given assurances that organs would not be taken from executed prisoners, the practice seems to be ongoing and poses an ethical dilemma for health professionals whose patients may travel to China for a transplant. An accompanying editorial notes a lack of accurate data about current practices within China means that there is uncertainty about what our response should be. The editorial states most New Zealand transplant surgeons already advise their patients against travelling overseas to purchase an organ transplant and that doctors are unable to enforce travel bans, or deny medical care to those who have received transplants elsewhere.

Journal/conference: New Zealand Medical Journal

Organisation/s: University of Auckland

Media Release

From: New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA)

Key points

Despite assurances from Chinese officials that organs would not be taken from executed prisoners from January 1st 2015, critical appraisal of available data concludes that transplant organs in China are taken from executed prisoners of conscience with official sanction from the Communist Party in collusion with the health system, transplant professionals and hospitals on an industrial scale.

Given the strong likelihood that a small number of patients from New Zealand (and Australia) travel to China each year to receive an organ, the implications of China’s transplantation industry have ethical and legal ramifications for transplant patients and health professionals in New Zealand.

A number of ethical tensions arise for NZ health professionals if they suspect or know their patient is considering procuring an organ from China, or if their patient returns to NZ with a transplanted organ.

Transplant surgeons from China who intend to continue their training and practice at home, should not be permitted to further their transplant training in NZ.

It is recommended that professional medical bodies provide formal guidance for health professionals engaged with patients who are organ transplant candidates.


In this paper, I cast an ethical lens over the situation of New Zealand patients travelling to China for an organ transplant, given evidence that China continues to take organs from executed prisoners of conscience. I consider some of the challenges facing health professionals involved in providing medical care to such patients, and propose some recommendations. I hope that this paper may start an informed conversation about this complex issue.

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