Rights concerns bedevil China: Doing trade with regime must be balanced with values

Calgary Herald
634 words
5 July 2006
Calgary Herald
Copyright ?2006 Calgary Herald

Should Ottawa promote trade with the People's Republic of China if rumours prove to be true that so-called organ tourism operates hand in hand with its judicial system to ensure a steady supply of body parts?

At the moment, it is a hypothetical question based on unconfirmed reports alleged by members of a religious group in the country.

But these are real questions for Canadians, who are free to buy the organs. And, given the massive hype about the future of trade with China, the federal Tories must think about it as they hone their Chinese policy.

Granted, Canada trades with many countries. Not all share its respect for life. Of no others, however, has it been said that hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas, and even skin, sold in their hospitals come from executed prisoners, a fact conceded by Chinese authorities, although they claim it is always with consent.

But now, former Edmonton MP David Kilgour and human-rights lawyer David Matas make a further shocking claim: China routinely uses Falun Gong prisoners -- whose only crime is dissidence -- as a source of body organs.

Although unproven, the claim itself is appalling.

The story broke in March when a Chinese journalist working for a Japanese news outlet claimed up to 6,000 Falun Gong were held as involuntary organ donors, at a concentration camp near a transplant hospital at Shenyang City.

Says Kilgour in a taped interview to be televised Thursday, "I don't think anyone can have any doubt that this unbelievable practice is continuing."

Certainly, doubt should be the first reaction, if only because of the monstrosity of the allegation. The Falun Gong, an otherworldly but peaceable cult emphasizing healthy living, is harshly persecuted in China. It has motive to speak ill of the Beijing regime -- which vehemently denies their allegations.

However, by their very nature, evidence would be hard to obtain. The alleged victims would be dead.

However, the U.S. Congress has heard sworn testimony from human-rights activist Harry Wu, who described taking an organ from a still-living prisoner. So has CNN's Anderson Cooper, whose program repeated the allegation June 15.

The confidence of Chinese hospitals promising a match is suspicious. In Shenyang, the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre website declares: "Viscera providers can be found immediately!"

In Great Britain, where 13 million people are organ donors, potential recipients face a long wait. Yet, in China, even complicated kidney matches are quickly arranged.

Falun Gong advocates suggest executions are made to order. And, a spokesman for the British Transplantation Society told the BBC in April, "The weight of evidence has accumulated to a point over the last few months where it's really incontrovertible in our opinion."

Stung by the criticism, the Chinese government announced in March that effective July 1, the sale of organs would be banned and doctors would need the written permission of donors. (One wonders how informed or free that consent can be.) Meanwhile, websites continue to advertise their services.

The evidence is circumstantial. Levelled against a country with a better human rights record than China's, would seem too horrifying to be true. It is a diplomatically delicate position for Canada, since Beijing's denials are so strong.

Yet, these charges cannot be shrugged off.

Before Ottawa invests billions of dollars to assist the Chinese export drive to North America, or further opens the vast storehouse of this country's wealth to the People's Republic, it must satisfy itself about who it is dealing with, and what a world informed by the values of the rulers of its largest country will look like.

"Anything for a dollar," is not a Canadian value.