Dr. Gerry Koffman is urging the government to issue travel advisories warning people that organs are being harvested without consent, but buying organs abroad is still legal
By Celia Milne
Toronto – You wouldn’t know it at first, but the quiet, unassuming Dr. Gerry Koffman is a powerful force behind Doctor Against Organ Harvesting (DAFOH).
This mild-mannered Toronto GP is doing all he can to raise awareness of the alleged practice in China of selling to foreigners organs harvested from executed political prisoners, including practitioners of Falun Gong. As the Canadian representative of DAFOH, Dr. Koffman is educating doctors and patients on the issue and lobbying the Canadian government to help stop the practice.
“Doctor’s awareness of this is surprisingly poor,” Dr. Koffman told the Medical Post. “We think it’s increasing. I hope we’re wrong but we’re not.”
Why has Dr. Koffman taken this on? He believes the situation echoes that of the Holocaust. Dr. Koffman was born in 1943 during the Second World War. His parents were Russian Jews, and as such he had many extended family members who didn’t survive the Nazi gas chambers. When the war was over, his father often rhetorically asked, “Why didn’t someone help?”
“It tortured my father. I’ve lived with Holocaust stories my entire life,” said Dr. Koffman. “The Falun Gong situation echoes that. Why isn’t anyone listening?”
So Dr. Koffman is helping.
He established a petition urging the Canadian government to issue travel advisories warning people that organ transplants in China include the use of organs harvested from non-consenting donors such as Falun Gong practitioners. He got the petition signed by 140 Canadian physicians from coast to coast. It was presented to the House of Commons in December 2007.
Canada at the forefront
Canada is at the forefront of raising awareness of this issue. Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas and Canada’s former secretary of state David Kilgour investigated the allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Their report, “Bloody Harvest” (Which was revised in January 2007), found strong evidence this is truly occurring.
One incriminating piece of evidence is the discrepancy between the number of organ transplanted and the number of organs for which a source was known. It added up to 41,500 unsourced organs in five years. “Everywhere in the world transplant candidates wait years, except China where they wait days,” Matas told the Medical Post.
He and Kilgour found a website that showed a Chinese transplantation network was charging between US $98,000 and $130,000 for a liver, $62,000 for a kidney, and between 130,000 and $160,000 for a heart. “In China, you are paying people to kill other people for their organs,” said Matas. Canadians are among the recipients of these organs. “We have indications, through transplant doctors in Canada we have interviewed, that at least 100 Canadians have gone to China for transplants,” said Matas.
Currently, the practice is not illegal. “If you were to buy in Canada, you are committing an offense, but if you buy abroad, you are not”, said Matas. He believes buying organs in another country is a crime against humanity heinous enough to be prosecuted here. “That’s the problem with the law, it basically allows a reprehensible trade to flourish. People don’t face legal sanctions if you buy in China.”
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa has called the Kilgour/Matas report “groundless and biased.”
Chinese Medical Association
A recent agreement between the World Medical Association and the Chinese Medical Association represented something of a step forward. These Chinese doctors’ group agreed to end organ sourcing from prisoners in China except for prisoners donating organs to their immediate family members. But, a letter from DAFOH’s president Dr. Torsten Trey. A cardiologist in Washington, to the WMA pointed out, “It is only the Chinese government that can stop this practice.”
Under international pressure and with the Olympics coming up, China strengthened its organ transplant laws last year, banning the harvesting of organs from non-consenting donors and requiring hospitals to register all transplants with Beijing. But as Matas and Kilgour note in their report, China is not ruled by law; it is ruled by the Communist Party.
Dr. Koffman insisted the practice is continuing, calling it another Holocaust. “Facing such atrocities, conscience forbids me from remaining silent”, he said.