St. Peter's Square during a Mass for the closing of the Jubilee of Mercy, on Nov. 20 at the Vatican. This week, the Vatican came under criticism for inviting China's former vice minister of health, Dr. Huang Jiefu, to a conference on organ trafficking. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
Ethics experts and human rights lawyers slammed the Vatican Feb. 6 for inviting a top Chinese health official to an organ trafficking summit despite concerns the Asian giant still uses tissue from executed prisoners.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences invited Huang Jiefu, the man in charge of overhauling China's transplant system, to the two-day conference in Vatican City, AFP reported.
Wendy Rogers, a medical ethics expert at Macquarie University in Australia and the chair of an advisory committee on tackling organ theft in China, slammed Huang's presence as "shocking."
Huang told journalists at the summit that the controversy was "ridiculous" and the use of organs from executed prisoners in China "is not allowed under any circumstances."
He admitted though that organ transplants from prisoners may still be taking place.
Victims reportedly include not only death-row prisoners but also religious and ethnic minorities such as Uighurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong spiritual practitioners and "underground" Christians.
Beijing issued its first regulation banning the trade of organs in 2007, but trafficking remains common as the country suffers a drastic shortage of donated body parts.
The practice of using executed prisoners' organs for transplants was also banned in 2015, but there are fears prisoners may be being reclassified as voluntary donors to get around the rules.
Rogers and a group of experts wrote to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy's chancellor, to warn that the church risked appearing to sanction the practice.
The Vatican "should be aware of how the endorsements — even indirect — of prestigious foreign bodies are used by China's propaganda apparatus," the letter said.
Sorondo's short response, said the conference aimed "to be an academic exercise and not a reprise of contentious political assertions."