Thousands of Hong Kongers cancel organ donation, prompting order for police probe

Move appears driven by concern about plan to integrate the system with mainland China
By Cheryl Tung for RFA Cantonese
2023.05.23
Thousands of Hong Kongers cancel organ donation, prompting order for police probe "I have asked the police to investigate whether there has been any violation of the rules,” says Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee.
Credit: Associated Press file photo

Hong Kong's leader John Lee ordered a police probe into a large number of withdrawals from the city's organ donor register following government plans to share organs with facilities in mainland China.

"I have noticed that there has been an unusual number of cancellations of organ donor status," Lee told journalists on Tuesday. "More than half of those who cancel are no longer registered as donors for any organs at all."

Authorities in Hong Kong are currently discussing setting up a common computer matching system for organs and donors in mainland China, integrating Hong Kong's existing system with the China Organ Transplant Response System. 

That’s prompted concerns that organs harvested from executed prisoners could wind up in Hong Kong, or that donors in Hong Kong might not want their organs to leave the city.

Lee said there had also been large numbers of repeat cancellations, which he termed "highly suspicious" and disruptive to the entire organ donation system.

"I strongly condemn any attempt to sabotage [our] organ donation system, which is there to save lives," Lee said. "I have asked the police to investigate whether there has been any violation of the rules, and whether any illegal actions have taken place."

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Lee's comments came after the department of health counted 5,785 applications for withdrawal from the donor register between December 2022 and the end of April, out of a total of more than 357,000 registered donors, adding that 2,905 were invalid because they came from people who hadn't been previously registered.

"The 2,880 valid applications for deregistration during the same period was also a far higher number than previously," the government said in a statement on Monday.

The statement came after users shared links to the city's donor register on LIHKG, a Reddit-like forum that was highly active during the 2019 pro-democracy movement, Reuters reported.

Trust of system

The biggest reason behind the cancellations is concern over plans to integrate organ donations with mainland China, said Johnny Lam of the advocacy group Hong Kong Patients' Voices.

"They don't know what the mechanism will be, and some people are reluctant to donate organs to mainland China, because it wasn't what they originally intended, so they have withdrawn," Lam told Radio Free Asia. "It's a shame, because those people who withdraw ... could have helped Hong Kongers or other people."

He said the matching plan meant that organs with no recipients in Hong Kong could be sent to mainland China rather than going to waste.

"But how does the government get the people of Hong Kong to trust that this system won't be abused or used unfairly, depriving donors of their right to decide?" Lam said.

‘Thicker than water’

The government on Monday hit out at "a small number of people on the internet" who have called on others to cancel their registrations as organ donors now that their organs could be sent to recipients in mainland China.

"They actually despise the fact that the blood of compatriots ... is thicker than water," a government spokesman said in a statement. 

"The government appeals to the public to continue to support the life-saving act of organ donation, and not to be provoked by a few people with ulterior motives to destroy the hard-won positive climate for organ donation atmosphere that has been established for many years now in Hong Kong," the statement said.

Hong Kong's Hospital Authority chief Paul Ko led a delegation to neighboring Guangdong province on May 20 to continue talks on the organ exchange mechanism, the government said in a statement.

Ko said the trip had "laid a good foundation" for future cooperation.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at the U.S. House of Representatives heard in May 2022 that while China claims to only source organs from voluntary donors, there are doubts as to the veracity of the claim. 

Chinese hospitals have performed many times more transplants than the highest estimates of ethically available donors can account for, according to data collected by the commission. 

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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