Minister Chen’s honorary degree proposal should be reconsidered

On Oct. 8, the University of Minnesota proposed granting an honorary doctorate to Dr. Chen Zhu, the minister of health of the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Chen has done remarkable and laudable research concerning leukemia and has pursued a number of worthy public health initiatives.

Unfortunately, Chen also presides over a transplantation system relying primarily on executions for organs. In 2006, the China International Transplant Center proudly proclaimed “viscera providers can be found immediately” adding:

“The Supreme Demotic Court, Supreme Demotic Law-officer, Police, Judiciary, Department of Health and Civil Administration have enacted a law together to make sure that organ donations are supported by the government. This is unique in the world.”

Numbers briefly declined in 2007 following steps against “illegal trafficking” and transplant tourism, with capital sentence review recentralized to Beijing. Yet the official system’s “vertical integration” continues to the present, sourcing organs from prisoners judicially condemned for any of 55 capital crimes, aside from any prisoner of conscience — Falun Gong or others, via military medical channels.

The journal Liver Transplantation now rejects research from China involving executees or paid sources. In 2009 Vice Health Minister Jiefu Huang, himself a liver transplant surgeon, again admitted that executees are not ethically justifiable organ sources. It continues still.

Arthur Caplan and colleagues note, “It is clear from the numbers provided by China that not all of the organs for Chinese citizens and transplant tourists are provided by voluntary, consenting donors.” Clearly, “use of executed prisoners as a source of organs is a morally reprehensible practice.”

Faltering attempts to promote a voluntary donor system do not justify continuing the execution-transplantation economy. The time has come to bring normal scientific and medical interchange with China concerning transplantation to a halt.

Given the Chinese civilian transplant establishment’s de facto demand on ongoing executions under the watch of the Ministry of Health, granting an honorary degree to Chen — not withstanding his achievements — is to dishonor the victims of this horrific system. We ask the University to reconsider its decision.

Kirk C. Allison, Ph.D., M.S. — director, Program in Human Rights and Health, University of Minnesota

Alejandro Baer, Ph.D. — director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota

William D. Payne, M.D. —director, Liver Transplant Program, University of Minnesota

David E. R. Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D. — professor, Department of Surgery, director, Schulze Diabetes Institute

David Kilgour, J.D. —former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, Canada

David Matas, Esq. — Winnipeg, Canada

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D. — director of Bioethics, New York University

Torsten Trey, M.D. — executive director, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting

Jasper Hopkins, Ph.D., R.N. — Department of Philosophy, Program in Human Rights and Health co-chair

Leigh Turner, Ph.D. — Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota

Carl Elliott, M.D., Ph.D. — Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota

Bruno Chaouat, Ph.D. — Department of French and Italian, University of Minnesota

Gabriel Danovitch, M.D. — distinguished professor of medicine, medical director, Kidney Transplant Program David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Jacob Lavee, M.D. —director, Heart Transplantation Unit, Sheba Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Eric J. Goldberg, M.D. — senior medical director, Shira Regenerative Medicine, La Jolla, Calif.

Alejandro Centurion, M.D. — Carmel, Calif.

Maria A. Fiatarone Singh, M.D., FRACP — Sydney Medical School

Arne Schwarz — co-author, State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D. — executive director, World Without Genocide, William Mitchell College of Law

Mary Faith Marshall, Ph.D. — Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Virginia