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Lack of organ donors only perpetuating organ harvesting

Janet Rice 28 Nov 2016

Motion text:

Senator RICE:  I, and also on behalf of Senator Abetz, move:

  That the Senate—

  (a) notes:

      (i) deeply concerning reports of unethical organ procurement procedures in foreign countries, including forced organ procurement from executed prisoners and prisoners of conscience in state-led processes,

      (ii) that a number of countries including Israel, Spain and Taiwan have banned organ tourism, and the United States and the European Union have passed strong resolutions against it, and

      (iii) that limited data is available on Australians receiving organ transplants overseas; and

  (b) invites the Australian Government to consider:

      (i) making it an offence to travel overseas to receive an organ acquired from a non-consensual donor, and

      (ii) establishing a register of Australians travelling overseas to receive organ transplants, including details on the country in which they receive them.

Question agreed to.

I rise to speak on the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Amendment (New Governance Arrangements) Bill 2016. As my colleague Senator Siewert has already outlined, the Greens will be supporting this legislation in line with the recommendation of the independent review.

I want to start by noting how timely it is that I am speaking on this bill tonight, because right at this very moment a very dear old friend of mine is probably receiving a kidney donation. He and his partner Cathy have been part of the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Program. Cathy had a kidney removed this morning, and I am told that the operation went well, and Ian was due to receive his kidney at 5 o'clock this afternoon. I think there were four pairs of people that were going to be involved and kidneys being flown across the country so that people could be getting this gift of life. Ian's kidneys were failing, and I know that to be able to receive a new kidney is going to be life-giving for him.

So it is very appropriate, because we know that organ donations are life-giving. People's lives depend upon their organs functioning well. Tonight we are speaking about the governance structures of the organ authority because we want to increase donation rates. We want make sure that all Australians have the opportunity to receive very precious donations of organs to allow them to continue to live. The Greens are very concerned, as Senator Siewert outlined in her contribution, about the fact that it appears that rates of organ donations are in decline. There are not enough organs available for all Australians who need them. What I want to talk about particularly tonight is what the consequences of that are. Not only does it mean that people cannot get their kidneys, hearts, lungs, and other organs and tissues to enable their lives to be extended and to enable them to be healthy and well; I am very disturbed that this lack of organs being available in Australia is fuelling a disturbing practice: the unethical procurement of organs overseas and the possibility that some Australians may be receiving these organs, potentially unwittingly.

I am very pleased that earlier today the Senate agree to a motion put forward by Senator Abetz and myself—there is not much that Senator Abetz and I agree on, but we agreed on this one—regarding this matter. The Senate agreed today that the Australian government should consider making it an offence to travel overseas to receive an organ acquired from a non-consensual donor and that it should also establish a register of Australians travelling overseas to receive transplants, including details of the country they receive them in. I sincerely hope that the government takes this recommendation seriously.

I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of people find the notion of organ harvesting abhorrent. It brings to mind a fictional dystopian future, not something that should be occurring in the world today. Just think of what organ harvesting means: people unwillingly having a kidney removed—which means they would probably survive that process—or other organs, like the heart and lungs, and people being killed for their organs. We know that organ harvesting from non-consensual donors is occurring. It is happening in 2016, particularly in China, and it has been going on for years.

Since the 1990s there have been reports and evidence of forced organ procurement in China. These organs come from executed prisoners and prisoners of conscience, mostly Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Uighur peopleand Christians. Researchers estimate that as many as 1.5 million victims have had their organs harvested for China's transplant industry. In 2005, China admitted to harvesting organs and said it would reform its practices, but in 2010 the director of the China Organ Donation Committee told The Lancet that more than 90 per cent of transplanted organs still came from executed prisoners. In late 2014 China announced that it would switch to a completely voluntary donation-based system and said that reports of the practice continuing are non-factualand baseless.

But you only need to look at the evidence. We had the world experts who have been delving into this evidence, Canadians David Matas and David Kilgour, at Parliament House this week. The evidence that they presented is very, very compelling. The evidence they gave showed that China cannot be meeting its needs on a voluntary basis alone given that between 2012 and 2013 only around 1,400 people signed up to donate. From looking into all the hospital records of the transplant hospitals in China, David Matas and David Kilgour estimate that there are between 60,000 and 100,000 transplants occurring every year. So we have 1,400 people signed up to donate versus 60,000 to 100,000 transplants occurring every year. Even if you say, 'Okay, it is just from executed prisoners so you may as well use those donations,' again, we have very limited information from the Chinese government as to how many prisoners they execute each year, but the estimates are that it is in the order of around 1,000 to 2,000. Again, that is nowhere near meeting the 60,000 to 100,000 transplants that it is estimated are occurring each year.

I am really deeply concerned that Australians may be driving this practice, unwittingly or not. Bringing it back to the legislation that we are discussing today, we need to be increasing the number of organs that are available in Australia so that Australians do not feel that this is their only hope of gaining an organ to allow them continue to live. There is limited data available on how many Australians are travelling to China to receive organ transplants, but, according to the Australia and New Zealand Dialysis and Transplant Registry, 53 Australians travelled to China to receive transplants between 2001 and 2014. It is acknowledged that these figures could be drastically under-reported, because we do not have any registration. All of these Australians might have family members in China who are acting as donors, but it seems unlikely. It is probably likely, sadly, that they are contributing to terrible human rights abuses of Chinese prisoners and persecuted minorities, whether they are doing it intentionally or not.

The motion that Senator Abetz and I moved earlier today asked the government to consider making it an offence to travel overseas to receive an organ acquired nonconsensually, which is what Spain, Israel and Taiwan have already done. We are also asking the government to consider establishing a register of Australians who receive organs overseas so that we have a better understanding of how Australians might be contributing to this awful practice.

We want those actions with regard to Australians travelling overseas. Coming back to home, we want action to encourage Australians, in whatever way we can, to be giving the gift of life by donating their organs. I will conclude by urging all Australians to consider joining the organ and tissue donor register. It really is the gift of life that you can give to one of your fellow Australians. And when you have registered, please take the time to talk to your friends and family about your wishes, so that they know your intentions, should the very worst happen.

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