Feb 7, 2016

Sydney University forced to reveal emails in Chinese organ-donation link scandal

Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald
February 7, 2016

Then Chinese vice-minister of health, Huang Jiefu, right, during the opening of a Sino-US collaborative office at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control in 2006.
Then Chinese vice-minister of health, Huang Jiefu,
right, during the opening of a Sino-US collaborative office
 at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control in 2006.
The head of China's organ-transplant program cautioned the University of Sydney that controversy over his appointment to an honorary position could damage reforms to end China's horrific practice of removing organs from executed prisoners.

The university has been forced to release internal emails about its reappointment of Dr Huang Jiefu, then China's vice-minister of health, as an honorary professor between 2008 and 2014, despite protests from some staff the university shouldn't be associated with China's organ-transplant program.

China officially ended the use of prisoner organs in transplant surgery in January 2015, a reform led by Dr Huang.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge claims the emails show the university was more interested in protecting its business interests in China than investigating the concerns of Dr Maria Fiatarone Singh, who in 2013 called for Dr Huang to be stripped of the title.

The university refused to release the emails under freedom of information law, but Mr Shoebridge had the decisions overturned through legal action.

The emails show the university was bombarded with protest letters as Dr Fiatarone Singh, a professor of health science, highlighted the criticism of Falun Gong that Dr Huang oversaw the organ-transplant system in China.

Informed by the university about the media attention the campaign was attracting, Dr Huang expressed concern about accepting the reappointment.

"I sincerely wish the nomination will not generate too much concerns leading to interference for the promising Chinese national-scale implementation of deceased organ donation just started," he wrote.

Transplant surgeons at the university backed Dr Huang.

"We have pressed Jiefu on what he did with respect to personal executed-prisoner surgery – the answer was once or twice in the 1990s but none since then and it drove his decision to work against their use," clinical surgery professor Jeremy Chapman wrote in June 2013.

Dr Chapman is a former president of The Transplantation Society, the peak international body for surgeons, who oversaw the World Health Organisation's declaration on ethical standards for organ donation.

As the controversy restarted in 2014, surgery professor Richard Allen wrote: "The protestations about the use of executed Falun Gong prisoners for organ retrieval may or may not be justified. However, the single most important person in trying to bring reform to the transplant sector in China has been Huang Jiefu."

But Mr Shoebridge said further comments by Professor Allen about Dr Huang's importance to the university's relationship with Peking University show another motive.

At least one ceremony to reappoint Dr Huang took place in Beijing with NSW Governor Marie Bashir. The university pressed Dr Huang on opportunities for collaboration with the Chinese government on such visits, the emails show.

A fifth of the university's income comes from Chinese international student fees.

"Its pretty clear that Sydney University places a higher value on the financial benefits of its connection with Peking University than the ethical standards of Australian universities," Mr Shoebridge said.

He claimed the activist campaign had forced the university to recently end the relationship with Dr Huang.

A University of Sydney spokesman denied this was the reason Dr Huang's appointment, which involved teaching and research linkages, finished in August 2015.

"Dr Huang's current position is chairman of the organ transplantation committee of the Chinese Government, and he is leading the extensive transplantation reforms being implemented in China. This is a critical position but it is not an academic role. An ongoing honorary academic appointment with Sydney Medical School was no longer appropriate," the spokesman said.

Dr Chapman told Fairfax Media he believed the use of organs from executed prisoners had ceased in China from January 2015.

He attended an organ donation reform meeting with 600 Chinese surgeons in Guangzhou in August. He said one Chinese hospital is believed to have continued to illegally use prisoner organs, but the rest are focused on the new laws and obtaining citizen donations from intensive care units.

"They have 60,00 road deaths a year, they have many more workplace deaths, they have plenty of people in their ICUs who can be organ donors. The whole focus of the Chinese transplantation program, from what I have seen, has turned around to proper organ donations."


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