|ource: American Journal of Transplantation, "On Patients Who Purchase Organ Transplants Abroad";|
South Koreans were one of the largest consumer groups of organ transplants in China, indirectly contributing to the unethical organ harvesting market there, speakers at a seminar said.
The data on organ transplants were presented at the “Vital Link seminar,” hosted by the Korean Society for Transplantation, Vital Link, Korea Organ Donation Network, and the Korea Organ Donation Agency, at Seoul National University Hospital on Thursday.
Organ trafficking has long been a problem around the world. China also has had a long, troubled history with organ transplantations since 1972 following the first operations on prisoners.
Organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners
The Chinese government, in particular, had fielded allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice based on moral principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance that rose to prominence in the 1990s, gaining around 100 million practitioners by 1999.
The Chinese government began cracking down on Falun Gong practitioners because of its rapid growth and spiritual teachings. Authorities finally persecuted thousands of Falun Gong practitioners, subjecting them to torture, forced labor, organ harvesting, and psychological abuse in 1999.
Following the persecution, two central figures – former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas - published a report titled the “Bloody Harvest,” which showed a large number of Falun Gong practitioners were killed for organ harvesting. Some 65,000 followers were estimated to be killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008, drawing outcry from international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
In response to unethical organ harvesting
The continuing problem finally led more than 150 experts and officials from 78 countries to sign the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism in April 2008, to define organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and commercialism, and address the shortage of organs.
Some international organizations have since come up with reports and other materials that shed light on organ trafficking. These groups include the WHO, International Coalition End Transplant Abuse in China, China Organ Harvest Research Center, International Association for Ethical Organ Transplants, and Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, among others.
In the U.S., Georgia’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution in March, which condemned the “systemic and state-sanction organ harvesting [in China] from prisoners of conscience,” according to the Epoch Times.
Despite international calls to crack down on organ harvesting, illegal organ transplants have continued in China since 2000, according to Han Hee-chul from Korea University College of Medicine and member of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting.
Korea one of leading consumers of unethical organ transplants in China
Against this backdrop, Han pointed out that Koreans were significant buyers of organ transplants in China, indirectly contributing to the organ harvesting market. A report from the Asia Times wrote that 200 out of 2,000 organ transplantation conducted at a local hospital were done by Koreans.
|Han Hee-chul, a professor from Korea University College of Medicine and a member of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, presents on the status of unethical organ harvesting in China at the “Vital Link seminar” at Seoul National University Hospital Thursday.|
The cause of a large number of Koreans getting organ transplants overseas stems from a shortage of organ donations in the country, Ahn said, noting that organ demand always exceeds supply around the world.
According to an annual report by KONOS, around 4,107 organ transplants were completed in Korea in 2015. At the same time, about 27,500 people remained on the waiting list, indicating that only about 15 percent of people who needed transplants got them.
Ahn Hyung-joon from Kyung Hee University’s College of Medicine pointed out the extended waiting period exceeding 1,900 days also leads to unethical behaviors such as organ trade or tourism.
“Our problem began in 2010 where Taiwan and Korea became the largest users, ranking the nation at second place in the world,” Ahn said. The professor called for an increase in awareness, an installment of a registration process, and the establishment of laws and ethical regulations, by, for instance, excluding those who get it done from national health insurance benefits.
“A lack of interest and awareness that this is a problem exists. Adding to that is a lack of legal and ethical guidelines,” Ahn went on to say, noting that it cannot be handled by legal punishment alone.
Lack of organ donations, regulations fuel organ tourism in Korea
“Even though Korea was one of the main users of illegal organ transplants overseas, the country has not been able to come up with realistic legal measures to deal with the issue,” Han added. “This requires an exact understanding of the situation at hand and countermeasures.”
Ahn noted that taking care of the patient’s need would be crucial to solving the problem as the patient often goes overseas as a last resort and in a state of emergency. He also noted that the phenomenon could not be stopped through legal punishments alone.
“Persistent monitoring through a mandatory registration system of those who have gotten it done abroad - for whatever reason - is also necessary,” Ahn said.
Regarding the increase in the number of organ donors, Yun Ik-jin from Dongguk University Medical Center noted that the number of organ donation registrants in Korea is strikingly low and particularly vulnerable to media reports and the actions of celebrities.
For example, organ donor registrants notably increased when Choi Yo-sam, a Korean boxer who suffered from brain damage during a boxing fight in 2007, saved six lives by donating his organs after suffering. Donor registrants also increased when Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan donated his corneas upon his death.
At the same time, negative media coverage on the poor status of Korean organ transplants by major terrestrial networks such as SBS led to a plunge in the number of registered donors.
“Recently, there weren’t many events that brought a positive effect (to the number of donors),” Yun noted. “In conclusion, we need long-term, systematic and educational promotion of organ transplants rather than reliance on single events (of celebrities or media).”
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