Health

15 studies retracted due to fears they used Chinese prisoners’ organs

Campaigners say organs are being taken from prisoners in China

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Fifteen studies about transplanted organs by researchers in China have been retracted this month due to concerns the work may have used organs from executed prisoners. Three other papers have been the subject of expressions of concern for the same reason, according to the website Retraction Watch which monitors questions raised over published research.

China’s government said in 2015 that the nation had stopped using organs from executed prisoners, which is illegal according to international conventions. But it is suspected that the practice continues in the country, particularly involving prisoners of conscience.

It has been claimed that targeted groups include Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in China, and practitioners of Falun Gong, a belief system similar to Buddhism that has been outlawed.

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Various scientific journals that publish research into organ transplantation have previously stated that, for ethical reasons, they will not publish any work that used prisoners’ organs. But earlier this year, campaigners highlighted 400 published papers that they suspect may have involved organs taken from prisoners.

Many came from work done before 2010 when China didn’t have the systems in place to get donor organs from people who are brain dead, as happens in other countries.

Some of the journals involved now seem to be taking action. The journal Transplantation has retracted seven papers, saying in an editorial that “it is clear with the benefit of hindsight” that “most deceased donors were executed people before 2010”.

Jacob Lavee, an Israeli heart surgeon who is a member of campaign group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, welcomes the news but says politicians also need to act. “Chinese transplant physicians are committing a crime against humanity.”

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