Dr Alex Chen, a PhD candidate of Imperial College WHOCC, was invited to be a panel speaker in the Scottish Parliament on 15th June 2016. Alex shared the current organ transplant tourism situation investigation in Asia (especially in China) and overseas transplant legislation experience in Taiwan.
Due to lack of reporting system for overseas transplant, most of the countries were unaware of the actual numbers of cases of transplant tourism. According to some preliminary studies, based on the Taiwan National Health Insurance Database, in the past decade, approximately 4000 Taiwanese patients travelled to China for organ transplants. All of them were charged very high price and received the organs in just couple weeks. Some other reports revealed that organs were harvested from living prisoners of conscience, mostly from detained Falun Gong practitioners or other religious people.
Since 2001, China’s incredibly short transplant waiting times (just a few weeks) has attracted lots of Taiwanese patients as well as patients from all over the world. China has given rise to the transplant tourism industry, which in turn has fueled unethical organ procurement practices for high profits on a national scale.
Therefore, in 2015, the Taiwan Legislature passed amendments to its original transplant laws banning the sale and purchase of organs for transplantation as a crime against humanity, with a special consideration of the use of organs from executed prisoners in China. The law prohibits the selling, buying and brokering of organs and transplant tourism. The Department of Health will now require major medical institutions and physicians to register the country of all organ sourcing and the hospital information (including surgeon identification) where patients received their organ transplants abroad when they apply for postoperative health insurance payments after returning home.
Mr Bob Doris, Member of Scottish parliament (MSP) was pleased to know Taiwan’s Parliament has made amendments to its Human Organ Transplant Ordinance. Patients in Taiwan who travel abroad to receive an organ acquired by illegal means can be sentenced up to five years in jail and face fines up to $500,000.
In the future, UK might start a study to understand the exact number of UK citizens who travel to China or other countries for transplant tourism. If numbers prove significant, parliamentarians have the responsibility to ask UK health authorities to dissuade patients from committing unethical ill doings. A specific legislation to prohibit the selling, buying and brokering of organs and transplant tourism might be necessary if the number of patients travelling to China for organ transplants keeps growing.