Many papers on organ transplants published in English-language academic journals don’t meet international ethical standards because they use research involving organs that may have been harvested from executed Chinese prisoners, an Australian-led study suggests.
Researchers from Macquarie University examined papers published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2017 using research from mainland China about Chinese organ transplants.
Human rights organisations have expressed concerns over China’s organ donation system, which reportedly uses organs taken from the bodies of executed prisoners although it has begun shifting to an opt-in harvesting scheme.
The 445 studies on more than 85,000 transplants almost certainly includes data linked to prisoners, the paper says, “given China’s acknowledgement that during this period executed prisoners were the principal organ donors”.
Bodies including the World Health Organisation and The Transplantation Society have condemned the use of organs transplanted from prisoners on death row, including research on such transplants, the paper says.
While 73 per cent of studies examined did have the approval of a review board, more than 92 per cent failed to report on whether the organs had been sourced from executed prisoners, and 99 per cent failed to report whether donors had given their consent.
Lead researcher and Macquarie University clinical ethics professor Wendy Rogers says the papers should not have been sent out for review, let alone published.
“We were quite shocked to find that there had been so few questions asked about where the organs came from in this Chinese research,” Prof Rogers told AAP.
Continued use of the research raises potential issues of complicity, the paper states.
“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,” Prof Rogers said in a statement.
Currently, there are no sanctions for breaches, the paper states.
It calls for the retraction of all the studies pending an investigation and an international summit to develop and implement standards for reporting organ procurement.
Prof Rogers would also like to see a freeze on exhibitions such as Body Worlds Vital, which is currently on show at Sydney Town Hall.
Concerns that the bodies on display may have belonged to people from persecuted Chinese minorities have been denied by its organisers.
The Macquarie University research is published in BMJ Open on Wednesday.