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How the CCP Silences Talk on Forced Organ Harvesting in the West
(Illustration / Samira Bouaou
By Eva Fu

When human rights lawyer David Matas put himself on Beijing’s radar by investigating the regime’s systematic killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs, suspicious events began happening around him.

Organizers who scheduled him to discuss the topic canceled at the last minute. Booked forum sites backed out with little explanation. A day before hosting him for a forum, one venue was the target of a drive-by shooting that left a bullet hole in the window.

During a separate live Q&A session, a man called in, identifying himself as a Chinese government police official.

“Are you afraid of death? You are brutally interfering in our Party’s internal policies,” the man said via an interpreter. “We’ll take revenge against you, are you not afraid of that?”

Mr. Matas remained steadfast. “If you don’t like what I said, try to stop organ transplant abuse in China and don’t threaten me,” he recalled saying.

More than trying to intimidate him, he said, Chinese authorities were acknowledging “they just want to insist on their position, even though they have nothing to say about it in their favor.”

That was 2008, two years after the regime’s mass killing-for-profit scheme first came to light. It’s a billion-dollar industry driven by the promise of extremely short waiting times for domestic and international patients. The supply comes from the forceful removal of organs from unwilling prisoners.

By 2024, not much seems to have changed in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) other than a new veneer of subtlety.

Rather than clashing in the open, the regime now retreats more into the background, wielding its economic and diplomatic arm to muffle criticism while cajoling elites in the political and medical field to speak on its behalf. In some ways, it has succeeded. From political circles to entertainment and academia, a net of fear hangs over, frustrating those seeking to make headway in exposing the abuse.

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David Matas, international human rights lawyer, before an event on forced organ harvesting at Harvard University in Boston on March 8, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

‘Big Lie in Plain Sight’

In a near unanimous vote, Congress passed Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act on March 27, 2023.

The next night, at around 10 p.m., the Chinese Embassy sent an angry missive to Mr. Smith’s office.

“China firmly rejects this absurd bill,” the official, Zhou Zheng, wrote. He repeated some communist party propaganda and demanded “that the U.S. side immediately stops baseless hype and anti-China moves.

Mr. Smith, whose bill seeks to punish perpetrators with up to 20 years in prison, called it “a big lie in plain sight.”

“Perfectly healthy people being put down in a gurney, drugged, in order to effectuate two to three of their organs being taken out involuntarily—and they kill them—that is murder. That’s crimes against humanity,” he told The Epoch Times. The bill is still awaiting Senate action.

Mr. Smith meanwhile continues to seek other ways to make a breakthrough. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he asked the State Department to offer cash rewards to encourage whistleblowers to step forward about organ harvesting.
“Silence is unacceptable,” he said at a March congressional hearing to explore ways to curb the abuse.

“Silence is not an option, particularly from medical associations and corporations. They remain silent, they are the most at risk of complicity in this heinous crime against humanity.”

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(L–R) Congressional-Executive Commission on China chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) during a hearing about the Chinese Communist Party’s forced organ harvesting, in Washington on March 20, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

‘Silent Enablers’

Silence is nonetheless the approach many take.

In 2017, as California state Sen. Joel Anderson was gaining support from colleagues to pass a resolution to condemn forced organ harvesting, the CCP intervened.

One by one, state senators around Mr. Anderson received letters from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco warning them against supporting the resolution. The letter was followed by a phone call from Chinese officials to ensure they received the letter.

The letter framed the measure as “anti-China” and “anti-human,” noting that it “may deeply damage the cooperative relations between the State of California and China.”

The tactic had a “chilling effect,” Mr. Anderson said.

During the last week of the Senate session, he tried 18 times to bring the resolution to the floor, appealing, at one point, for his fellow legislators to look around the gallery at the faces of victims who fled China’s persecution, but it was fruitless: his colleagues “didn’t want to talk about it.”

It was a deep disappointment for Mr. Anderson to see how much impact a letter from the Chinese officials could have in America.

“To think that California or any U.S. legislator would be influenced or intimidated by the Chinese government is scary,” he told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “We should feel confident in our own country to call out atrocities when we see them.”

Mr. Anderson, like Mr. Smith and Mr. Matas, is on Beijing’s blacklist over his human rights advocacy.

California isn’t the only place the regime has successfully stifled talks on the abuse, nor are such efforts limited to the political sphere.

In 2019, when an independent London-based people’s tribunal concluded “beyond reasonable doubt” that state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting is happening in China “on a significant scale,” Dr. Weldon Gilcrease, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist at the University of Utah, was compelled to get his school do something.

The University of Utah houses the state’s only comprehensive transplant center, which covers surgeries for kidney, pancreas liver, heart, and lung transplants. Both the liver and kidney transplant programs ranked in the top 10 nationally in 2017. With a 3-and-a-half page summary of the tribunal’s findings in hand, he approached the school’s chief medical officer, suggesting that they sit down with the legal and transplant teams of the university’s medical center.

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A scene of Falun Gong practitioners performing a meditative exercise from the documentary “State Organs.” (Courtesy of Rooyee Films)

Dr. Gilcrease said the officer was aware of organ harvesting, but declined to take action for fear that China will send students to Texas instead of Utah.

Time and again, fear of offending the regime has been walling off voices on the issue.

In 2023, Canadian filmmaker Cindy Song completed the documentary, “State Organs,” a six-year investigation into the unexplained disappearance of two Chinese people in their twenties. Both were Falun Gong practitioners—one went missing while on the run from police for distributing DVDs shedding light on communist China’s all-out persecution targeting his faith, while the other disappeared a year after losing her husband to torture in a Chinese labor camp.

Falun Gong, featuring truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, makes up a community of 70 million to 100 million people in China that the CCP has tried to eliminate over the past 25 years. The large size of the group and the adherents’ physical health makes them a prime organ source.

An Italian distributor who caught wind of the film expressed interest in October 2023. A day later, she backed away apologetically.

“I have to offer you all my deepest compliments since the film is good and well paced,” the woman wrote to Ms. Song. “Unfortunately, my colleagues told me that all the docs on Falung [sic] Gong persecution have always been pushed away by Italian broadcasters.”

Ms. Song told The Epoch Times that she met with a similar reception not long afterward at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California.

“Stop, stop, stop. No, no, no,” Ms. Song heard an executive from a major U.S. distributor say when an excited staff member brought the film to his attention. To the confused staff member, he explained that they can’t take any film related to Falun Gong, because, it would mean “​​you can’t sell any of your films to China,” Ms. Song recalled.

A Canadian copyright insurer, in November 2023, declined partnership with her film, saying “The subject is too contentious for our appetite.”

“We couldn’t get comfortable with the exposure. China has a lot of resources and won’t be afraid to protect their reputation,” an email shared with The Epoch Times read.

Money, Ms. Song said, is a weapon that Beijing flaunts to great effect, especially to coerce self-censorship.

“As long as you want to make money from China, you have to submit to their rules,” Ms. Song said. “People check their speech even outside of China lest they offend the CCP. Then bit by bit, we all become silent enablers of its crimes.”

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Cindy Song, producer and writer of the award-winning documentary “State Organs,” after a screening at Harvard University in Boston on March 7, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Smith also recognizes the power of the Chinese purse.

“They have an ability with some to get them to cower,” he said, referring to Chinese regime intimidation.

Instead, he said, it should be a wake up call. As the Chinese Communist Party is “committing atrocities like this,” he said, “shame on us if we don’t call it out, and do everything within our power through legislation and policy.”

‘Tough Topic’

Even with awareness growing on national and local levels over the gravity of the abuse, responses from the medical community have been slow.

The first major group to take action was the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, the world’s largest research body in the field. In 2022 the group began an academic boycott against papers from Chinese surgeons over possible complicity.
A year later, the Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons joined, saying it condemns “any and all forms of forced organ harvesting” and urging U.S. physicians to stop training or educating Chinese medical professionals who could put the skills into deadly use.

“No single surgeon or doctor that I know of would say, yes, that a government orchestrating its medical system to kill innocent people is okay or justified in any way,” Dr. Gilcrease told The Epoch Times.

“But the confrontation comes in because you’re dealing with one of the most powerful nations in the world, and you’re dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, which has had now decades to exert power and propaganda over its own people and the rest of the world.”

What makes it a “tough topic” goes beyond the “fear about speaking out against the CCP and retaliation by CCP.”

“It’s also fear about being the sole voice and standing alone without the support of other doctors, surgeons, medical societies,” he said.

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A scene from “State Organs,” a documentary that highlights the state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting in China, during a screening at Harvard University in Boston on March 7, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The transplant field is a niche community where those at the top invariably end up knowing each other. China’s rapid boom in the sector over the past few decades is hard not to notice, and exchange or collaboration between U.S. and Chinese surgeons is common.

A 2022 report from human rights group World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong documented hundreds of cases in which Chinese transplant doctors had honed their skills in the United States before applying them in major Chinese hospitals that were implicated in forced organ harvesting.

One doctor on the list, former Chinese health minister Huang Jiefu, has for years defended Beijing’s position by pointing to the organ donation program that the regime set up in 2015 amid mounting questions about the source of its organs.

A 2019 study published in the scientific journal BMC Medical Ethics found the Chinese organ donation data “too neat to be true.”
Examined under statistical forensics, study coauthor Jacob Lavee said the figures “conform almost precisely to a mathematical formula” and deviate from “every other country between one and two orders of magnitude,” suggesting a high chance of systematic falsification.

‘Prove That China’s Lying’

Beijing’s promises to improve its organ transplant practices have nonetheless appeared to have satisfied some prominent U.S. surgeons.

Days ahead of a March panel on forced organ harvesting at Harvard University, Dr. Francis Delmonico emailed his colleagues dismissing the significance of the event.

Dr. Delmonico is a part-time professor of surgery at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and an organ transplant expert who has frequently traveled to China and has spoken alongside Mr. Huang.

He is also the former president of the influential Transplantation Society, a forum with members from over 100 countries that provides guidelines on ethical practices.

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Falun Gong practitioners appeal next to the United Nations in New York City on Sept. 20, 2023. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)

In his email subject line, Dr. Delmonico requested “Harvard wide distribution.”

“We recognize that such unethical practice was the source of transplantable organs in China a decade ago; but thereafter, the Chinese government has proclaimed a prohibition,” Dr. Delmonico wrote.

“We have met with the PRC Minister of Health Ma in Beijing to maintain a vigilance of the international community that China fulfill its pledge.

“We have no illusion about the possibility of being duped in these deliberations.”

Dr. Gilcrease, who spoke at the Harvard panel, said “you can’t just take China’s numbers at face value.”

He highlighted a 2023 paper that Chinese doctors published in the Journal of Hepatology. It described a two-year clinical trial in which more than 60 patients were randomly assigned to get either a regular liver transplant or one that was “ischemia-free”—meaning the organ had “gone right out of a warm body into another body, Dr. Gilcrease said.

The paper made a disclaimer at the bottom that “none were from prisoners.”

Dr. Gilcrease questioned how that could be true. “How do you randomize that? How do you get 30 done?” he said.

“You have to imagine having somebody who is dying, who’s brain dead, then you have to have that donor, essentially, right next to the other person,” he said, noting further that the doctors had accomplished the feat with resources from a single hospital and within a short timeframe.

“It’s virtually impossible,” he said.

He has no answers for now, because China is “a place where you can’t ask questions,” he said.

Like it or not, the views from Dr. Delmonico are “more or less consensus of the transplantation leadership,” said Mr. Matas, one of the Boston event panelists that Dr. Delmonico named in his email.

“He says, prove that China’s lying. But that’s not the way the system is supposed to work,” Mr. Matas told The Epoch Times. “The onus is on China to show that they’re behaving properly. The onus is not on us to show they’re doing something improper.”

In detailed reports, Mr. Matas and others analyzed hundreds of Chinese hospitals’ transplant programs, along with media reports, and archived records. By examining hospital revenue, bed counts, bed utilization rates, surgical personnel, and state funding, they believe that the Chinese regime is vastly undercounting its transplantation rates.

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Anh Cao, president of the Falun Dafa Club at Harvard Griffin GSAS and organizer of a forum on forced organ harvesting at Harvard Medical School, in Boston on March 8, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

They have collected compelling circumstantial evidence: a liver transplant registry in Hong Kong showing aggregate totals that shot up in parallel to the persecution of Falun Gong, organ transplant advertisement online, and numerous Chinese hospitals touting record-breaking transplant volumes. Most such data and records have now vanished into the ether.

“Whenever we do prove something, they take away the evidence, they take down the data stream and they say, ‘Oh, your evidence is out of date,’” said Mr. Matas. “There’s no independent outside observer that can look at the Chinese prison records and Chinese hospital records. The Chinese detention system—it’s completely closed off.”

While organizing the Harvard event, graduate student Anh Cao said that he had prepared himself for a variety of possible disruptive scenarios. With Falun Gong being a taboo topic in China, staff members at the student center had told him that some Chinese students working there were “very adamant about not being affiliated with Falun Dafa as that could impede with their eventual return to China,” emails shared with The Epoch Times show.

Mr. Cao said the email from Dr. Delmonico was “very disappointing.” He sees it as doing the bidding of the regime: to “shut down” serious discussion and bury cold truths.

“The reason why the CCP suppresses any discussion” on this issue, he told The Epoch Times, “is because based on facts, based on evidence, they don’t have any ground.”

Dr. Delmonico didn’t immediately return an emailed query from The Epoch Times.

‘Another Direction’

The Boston episode occurred just as another panelist was hitting a brick wall.

For months, Dr. Torsten Trey’s group, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), heard nothing after applying for a booth in mid-November 2023 for the June American Transplant Congress, North America’s largest meeting that brings together thousands from the transplant ecosystem.

DAFOH has spent nearly two decades advocating its cause, efforts that a British lawmaker lauded by nominating the medical ethics group for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize.

China Organ Harvest Research Center, another research group dedicated to the issue, had by then selected a booth and received an invoice. In late January, both groups received an email telling them they weren’t welcome to participate.

The “[American Transplant Congress] team and societies have made the decision to move in another direction for 2024,” read the email sent to both groups on the same day.

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A rally outside the American Transplant Congress 2024 in Philadelphia on June 2, 2024, calling for an end to forced organ harvesting in China. (Andrew Li/The Epoch Times)

Both received another email from the organization in April asking for detailed information about their booth for a chance to be reconsidered. After weeks, in the same one-hour window on the last day of the month, they got the verdict: rejection.

The turn of events was puzzling. The two groups had been presenters at the conference for years without trouble, and Dr. Min Fu, of the China Organ Harvest Research Center, couldn’t help noticing the large number of vacant booths both times the medical conference turned them away: around half during the first, and one fourth in the latter.

“It makes little sense,” she told The Epoch Times.

Dr. Trey, meanwhile, pondered the phrase “another direction.”

“That can mean anything,” he told The Epoch Times, questioning whether the American Transplant Congress was trying to “hide something.”

His group was ready to adjust any materials to suit the conference’s needs if that’s what it takes to present their research, he said.

“They just didn’t give us any information.”

He said he was “speechless” to think conference officials had “made the decision on behalf of all 4,000 attendees” that they need not review DAFOH’s research.

“This is possibly the largest medical abuse of the century,” he said. “If the transplant community is not willing to look into it, how does this reflect on the transplant community?”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who has pushed a bill to sanction Chinese officials, military leaders, or other individuals complicit in facilitating of forced organ harvesting, expressed outrage over the incident.

“It’s reprehensible and wholly unacceptable for any organization—especially the American Transplant Congress—to censor anyone trying to combat forced organ harvesting,” he told The Epoch Times. “Medical professionals must be made aware of the real and ongoing infiltration of forced organ harvesting into the modern day medical community.”

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Dr. Torsten Trey, founder and director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, at an event on forced organ harvesting at Harvard University in Boston on March 7, 2024. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The American Transplant Congress said its two hosting organizations, the American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, are “fully committed to advancing” the organ transplantation system “without jeopardizing the ethical foundations and practices that have made the U.S. system uniquely trusted and effective.

“Additionally, we are aware of those advancing ideas to increase access to living donor transplantation, including forced coercion for organ transplants, that may appear expedient but can result in serious adverse consequences for transplantation and for patients. These proposals pose serious unintended consequences to both donors and to public trust in organ donation,” a spokeswoman told The Epoch Times.

“We cannot speak to other institutions outside the United States, but we fundamentally reject efforts to model changes to the current U.S. system based on research or organ transplant practices in nations such as China whose government fails to meet or ignore high international and U.S. standards for ethical medical research and basic human rights.”

Calls for Accountability

On June 1, Dr. Gilcrease, a deputy director at DAFOH, stood in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, American Transplant Congress venue, to appeal to a rally crowd.

He cited the Chinese regime’s censorship of a doctor, Li Wenliang, who tried to warn the world of the pandemic at the end of 2019 but was “forced to sign something saying that the truth was false and that the false was true,” eventually dying of the virus himself.

“In China, things are swept under the rug and they move on. But this can’t happen to the medical field. Medical ethics requires accountability,” he said.

DAFOH’s direction is to seek “truth, transparency, respect for human dignity, and accountability. Do these differ from the American Transplant Congress? If so, how? And if not, why do we remain outside of the conference?”

The case of combating forced organ harvesting, to Mr. Smith, is “a human rights issue that has few equals.”

“Falun Gong have suffered so much—for what? Being peaceful, kind-hearted, disciplined, healthy? They’re being culled out and killed because of their health, they are so healthy, they take care of themselves, so the Chinese Communist Party sees them as somebody to exploit.”

Two months before his bill sailed through the House, Mr. Smith was at the hospital for some physical ailments, and the imagery of cruelty ongoing in China seized him: a detained Falun Gong practitioner or perhaps a victim of another persecuted group, brought in against their will.

“They’re laying there, maybe semiconscious, knowing that this doctor is not there to cure them, but to kill them as an executioner, and before the execution is finished, to take two or three of their organs.”

It took him three years to convince his colleagues to sign onto the anti-forced organ harvesting legislation.

It’s been an uphill battle, he said, but “now people seem to get it.”

“While we all get it, let’s do something about it.”

 

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