New study reveals 'mass failings' on transplant research

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A study led by researchers at Macquarie University and published in BMJ Open has uncovered what it describes as "mass failings" in complying with international ethical standards concerning the publication of peer-reviewed research on transplant organs sourced from Chinese executed prisoners.

The world first study has found research, which was published in peer-reviewed English language journals between January 2000 and April 2017 regarding transplantation of organs, did not meet the ethical standards of international medical bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), The Transplantation Society, and the World Medical Association.

The new study has found 99 per cent of studies failed to report if organ donors had given consent for transplantation and that 92 per cent of studies failed to report whether organs were sourced from executed prisoners.

It also found 19 studies, involving 2,688 transplants, claimed that no organs from executed prisoners were used. However, it said these studies took place prior to 2010, when there was no volunteer donor program in China.

According to lead researcher, Professor of Clinical Ethics Wendy Rogers from Macquarie University, the studies need to be retracted and investigated and that agreed standards for reporting transplant research for peer-reviewed papers would help stop publication of unethical research.

“The world’s silence on this barbaric issue must stop. Researchers and clinicians who use the research risk complicity by accepting Chinese methods of organ procurement. Research which has used unethically obtained materials has no place in peer-reviewed journals. As an academic community we need to come together to say enough is enough,” said Professor Rogers.

The study authors have proposed an international summit to develop and implement standards for reporting organ procurement.

“It is extremely concerning to us as academics, as it should be to the medical research community at large, that there is now a large body of unethical research that transplant researchers in Australia and internationally may have used and benefited from. To maintain ethical standards, this research should be retracted pending investigation into each of the individual papers,” added Professor Rogers.

China has long received condemnation for harvesting organs from executed prisoners from organisations like Amnesty International who have led campaigns calling for an end to the practice. However, as late as 2014, 90 per cent of transplant organs in China were sourced from executed prisoners, according to Dr Huang Jiefu of the Chinese Organ Donation Committee.

Members of an independent people’s tribunal recently gave a draft judgement that concluded forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has taken place in China and on a substantial scale.

In 2006, The Transplantation Society explicitly stated that it would not accept conference papers based on research involving organs sourced from executed prisoners, setting the standard for medical journals across the world.

Yet the new study has found major breaches of this ethical standard. Most recently, The Transplantation Society has reissued a requirement for all journals to reject papers that do not abide by ethical principles to ensure compliance among the research community.

This is the first time that a study has been conducted to track the progress of the transplant community in blocking publication of research that uses organs from executed Chinese prisoners.

A recent Australian parliamentary inquiry recommended the Australian Government do more to combat organ trafficking and transplant tourism which accounts for nearly $2.3 billion a year.