Sydney honour for China organ transplant doctor prompts outcry

University of Sydney academics fight honorary professorship over ties to inmate organ harvests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 2:47am


Australian academics are calling for a Chinese surgeon accused of harvesting organs from executed prisoners to be stripped of a University of Sydney honorary professorship.

Huang Jiefu, who was trained in Sydney and was until recently China's vice-minister for health, now oversees Beijing's organ transplant committee.

The university awarded Huang an honorary professorship that was recently extended for another three years, sparking an outcry. Dr Maria Fiatarone Singh, a professor of medicine, is organising a petition to have Huang's honours overturned.

In an open letter, Singh said Chinese officials used execution by lethal injection as a way to take and preserve prisoners' organs.

Huang, a liver transplant surgeon, and the Beijing government had paid only "lip service" to stopping organ harvesting from prisoners, she said. "They are basically still practising execution on demand," she said.

However, Dr Richard Allen, a professor of surgery, said that Huang was recognised in the global transplant community as "an absolute champion and a hero" for his reform efforts.

Huang in 2005 became China's first senior government health official to openly admit that transplant patients received organs harvested from condemned criminals. China has said it will begin to phase out the use of organs from executed prisoners this year.

The dean of the university's medical school, Bruce Robinson, supported Huang's appointment to honorary professor.

We believe this is a very, very important set of principles that Jiefu is pursuing in China, and that is reform of use of transplanted organs
Dean of the Sydney University's medical school, Bruce Robinson

"We believe this is a very, very important set of principles that Jiefu is pursuing in China, and that is reform of use of transplanted organs," Robinson said.

Singh said inmates are "anaesthetised, they don't die straight away. [That] gives the surgeons time to take out as many organs as they would like to, and then the lethal injection finalised."

China insists that prisoners and their families give consent for their organs to be used, but the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have condemned the practice. Human rights groups say China executes about 4,000 a year.

"One of our most prestigious institutions, the University of Sydney, is meant to be standing up for the best ideal of society, democracy, academic freedom," Greens party MP David Shoebridge told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "For it to be awarding some of its highest honours to a medical practitioner who benefited, year after year, from transplanting the organs of executed prisoners, is a betrayal."

Human rights lawyer David Matas called Huang unethical.

"Huang Jiefu, being responsible for an unethical system, and himself participating in transplants, has engaged in unethical behaviour and his professorship should be revoked," he said.