This is the second time China was invited by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) to attend a meeting in the Holy See, as China’s reform and progress on organ transplant has increasingly received papal and global recognition.
“Relations between Beijing and the Vatican authorities are moving forward, so are the relations between the two peoples,” said Huang Jiefu, former Chinese vice-minister of health and current head of the National Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee.
In February 2017, Huang shared China’s experience on organ donation and transplant at a similar PAS global summit, a step furthering international recognition on China’s reform after it banned the use of organs from executed prisoners in 2015.
“The exchanges are beneficial to world peace, and are also beneficial to people from the two sides,” Huang told the Global Times on Saturday.
“It is also good momentum to expand the contact beyond the health sector and reach to cultural and other areas,” said Huang.
China and the Vatican have no diplomatic relations. Speculations are running high that the two sides are close to consensus on a bishop appointment in China, a positive sign for relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
In 2017, more than 5,100 Chinese citizens voluntarily donated their organs after death, which saved, or improved life of more than 16,000 people, according to official data obtained by the Global Times on Saturday.
Globally speaking, China expects to share the China experience on promoting ethical and sustainable organ donation and transplantation in countries along the Belt and Road initiative in a global task force proposed to the World Health Organization last year, which more than 40 countries expressed their interest and support, said Huang.
Though China’s reform garnered wide recognition in international society, including academic groups previously placing embargos on China, the country still faces domestic challenges and overseas smearing from time to time.
Liu Yuan-chan, a researcher from the Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplantation (TAICOT), said in a November event that probable procurement from living prisoners in the mainland, who are mostly Falun Gong practitioners, has “raised ethical concerns for the organ sources,” according to a February newsletter from TAICOT.
When asked to comment, Huang said the narrative of harvesting organs from the cult practitioners is “totally fabricated nonsense for political agendas.”
Voluntary donation has become the only legitimate source since 2015, and China has the toughest law and enforcement against organ trafficking and trading, he added.
China criminalized unauthorized trading of organs in 2011, a crime for which the death penalty can be handed down in severe cases. From 2007 to 2016, 174 criminal suspects were arrested in China for organ trafficking.
All the donated organs are distributed via the computerized system COTRS. Those who interfere with or bypass the system will be disqualified from participating in healthcare and investigated for criminal responsibility.
During the past seven years, 385 people from Taiwan have received transplant surgeries on the mainland and 188 people are on the waiting list, according to data provided by COTRS on Saturday.
Around 10 percent of the mainland's donated organs are not able to be matched to suitable patients every year due to strict medical requirements for matching. Wang Haibo, head of the COTRS system, suggested that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao be included in the organ distribution and sharing system of the mainland.
He emphasized that Macao already signed an organ sharing agreement with the mainland and this proposal is endorsed by WHO officers because it is consistent with WHO guiding principles.
Experts stressed that the inclusion must be mutual and conducted by authorities, instead of agents, to ensure the process is legal and ethical.
Taiwan authorities should not be affected by the “Taiwan independence” forces and should positively engage in the exchange for the life-saving cause, Huang stressed.
The mainland released 31 new measures on exchanges and cooperation with Taiwan on February 28, including measures enabling Taiwan medical students or doctors to apply for licenses to practice on the mainland.
The measures will help experienced Taiwan doctors to train transplant doctors on the mainland, as there’s a dire shortage on the mainland, said Huang.
He added that the mainland could also share experience of how to encourage more voluntary donation with the island, he added.