The World Health Organization (WHO) has long recognized the link between health and universal human dignity. Its constitution says: "The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition".
A WHO review in 2000 of 191 countries for the quality of their health care services placed France first and Sierra Leone last. Many Canadians were probably surprised to see that we placed only 30th, not far ahead of the United States at 37. Canada ranked 21 in availability of CAT-scan machines, 19 in availability of MRIs, and sixth in the availability of cancer radiation units.
WHO believes that governments should develop explicit health policies that set benchmarks, outline parameters, delineate the expected roles of health care professionals, and build public consensus. In my view, so should our provincial/federal/territorial governments and the various health professions as the providers of health care across Canada.
TWO MAJOR HEALTH/HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES:
Female Genital Mutilation
Everyone knows that health is vital to quality of life and can also be used as a tool of oppression. In too many parts of the world, girls still undergo the dangerous experience of female genital mutilation (FGM). The appalling practice leaves them with severe health complications. Gender discrimination in it is clear in that it targets only women and girls – both of whom need particular protection in the assertion of human rights and gender equality.
It is also a tool of oppression. Even though other women often assist in carrying out FGM, it is an attempt to control a woman’s sexuality and body and assumes that they have somehow been created in a way that needs to be drastically altered in order to make them acceptable. FGM continues as a major health and dignity issue in the 21st century. It is even carried out sometimes by health care practitioners, leading many to question what human rights standards are in place in such jurisdictions.
Today, I encourage you never to see health issues as being independent from human rights. I am inspired by your interest in governance. Your interest in global issues is vital because the stature of Canada as a country is largely determined by how it chooses to act on issues of international importance.
Please remember that every time a violent form of oppression leaves someone hospitalized, or when a woman in a developing country does not carry a child to term because she did not have access to pre-natal care, it is not only an issue for the local medical community but one for everyone concerned with the spread and maintenance of human dignity on the planet.
Permit me now to turn to a second major international human rights-health issue, which relates to the theme of this conference in various ways. One is the nexus between how the demand for human organs affects the lives of many nationals in the important country of China. I've spent a good deal of volunteer time on this issue during the past four years, including travel to perhaps forty national capitals, seeking to raise the awareness of legislators, governments, media, civil societies, health professionals, international bodies and the public internationally generally to persuade each of them to pressure the government in Beijing to end its inhuman commerce in human organs.
David Matas, the renowned Winnipeg lawyer, and I came to the dismaying conclusion that Falun Gong practitioners across China have been and are being killed often without any form of trial for their organs on a large scale. We wrote an independent report that came to this conclusion, which came out in July 2006. There was an updated version in 2007 you can access in 19 languages from www.david-kilgour.com. A book was published late last year titled Bloody Harvest, which was launched at a meeting of the all-party Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline with principles for living, meditation and exercises, which was introduced first across China in 1992. Outside China, it is now practised in about 114 countries. Initially, the party-state of China encouraged the practice initially as beneficial for public health. By 1999, it had grown so popular that the Communist party became afraid that its own supremacy might be threatened. The numbers across China had grown from virtually none in 1992, according to a government estimate, to 70-100 million citizens. The practice was accordingly banned and practitioners have been demonized in party media with virtually all manner of untruth and vilification continuously since 1999.
Practitioners were asked to recant. Those who refused and continued the practice and those who protested the banning were arrested. If they recanted after arrest, they were released. If they did not, they were tortured. If they recanted after torture, they were then released. If they did not recant after torture, many disappeared into the detention and forced labour gulag.
Our conclusion is that many of the disappeared were killed for their organs, which were trafficked to transplant tourists. It would take too much time to set out all the reasons we came to that conclusion. We invite you to read our report or our book. Briefly, two of the 52 evidential trails we followed which led to our conclusion are these:
1) Only Falun Gong practitioners in work camps and prisons are systematically blood tested and physically examined. This testing cannot be motivated by concerns over the health of practitioners because they are also systematically tortured. Testing is necessary for organ transplants because of the need for blood type compatibility between the organ source and the recipient.
2) Traditional sources of transplants--prisoners sentenced to death and then executed, voluntary donors, the brain dead/cardiac alive--come nowhere near to explaining the total number of transplants done across China since 1999. There is no organized system of organ donations. There is a cultural aversion to organ donation. There is no national organ matching or distribution system. The only significant source in China of organs for transplants before the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners began in 1999 was prisoners sentenced to death and then executed. The volume of organ transplants in China went up dramatically shortly after the banning of Falun Gong, yet the numbers of persons sentenced to death and then executed did not increase.
We estimate that about 41,500 organs transplanted over the period of persecution up to 2005 came from Falun Gong practitioners. How we reached this conclusion is explained in our book and in our report. We deducted from the 90,000 transplants, which a government spokesman said were done over the period examined, those which came from executed criminals and other explained sources. The difference was 41,500 up until 2005 alone. Consider how much blood money the party-state and its agents, including medical professionals, are making from organ trafficking and forced labour provided by Falun Gong practitioners.
Forced Labour Camps
Matas and I visited about a dozen countries to interview Falun Gong practitioners sent to forced labour camps, who managed later to leave the camps and the country itself. They told us of working in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay, little food, being cramped together on the floor for sleeping, and being tortured. They made export products, ranging from clothing to chopsticks to Christmas decorations from all indications often as subcontractors to grossly unethical multinational companies.
The camps were created in the Mao era and allow the Party to send anyone to them for up to four years without any form of hearing or appeal. One estimate of their number across China as of 2005 was 340, having a capacity of about 300,000 inmates. In 2007, a US government report estimated that at least half of the inmates in the camps were Falun Gong. It is the combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything is permitted' or 'carnivore' economics that allows such inhuman practices to persist.
Since our report came out, laws and practices in China have changed. A law on transplants in May 2007 required that transplants be performed only in registered hospitals. The Ministry of Health announced that from June 26, 2007 Chinese patients would be given priority access to organ transplants over foreigners. The announcement also banned all medical institutions from transplanting organs into foreign transplant tourists. The government announced in August 2009 that it was launching an organ donation system as a pilot project.
With these changes, however, the crimes against humanity continue. The recipients have changed from mostly foreign to local, but the sources remain substantially the same. The government denies that organs are being sourced from prisoners who are Falun Gong practitioners. Yet it accepts that organs for transplants are being sourced from prisoners. The only debate we have with the Government is which group of prisoners is the source of organs.
"Non consenting parties"
Sourcing of organs from prisoners is done without their consent. Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu in Guangzhou in November 2006 said in a speech, "too often organs come from non consenting parties". At the time of the announcement of an organ donor pilot project, Huang indicated that executed prisoners “are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants". This principle, that prisoners are not an acceptable source for organs, is followed by the Transplantation Society and the World Medical Association. So what is the rule of law world going to do about the party-state’s abuse of global transplant ethics? Our report and book have a long list of recommendations, but, given the shortness of time, I’ll mention here only two.
One is extraterritorial legislation. The 2007 policy giving priority to Chinese patients has cut down on transplant tourism to China, but such legislation would be a useful statement of universal principle. The sorts of transplants in which the Chinese medical system engages are illegal everywhere else in the world. But it is not illegal for a foreigner from any country to go to China, obtain a transplant which would be illegal at home, and then return home. Foreign transplant legislation everywhere is territorial; it has no extraterritorial reach. Many other laws are global in their sweep. For instance, child sex tourists can be prosecuted not just in the country where they abuse children, but often at home as well. This sort of legislative sanction does not exist for transplant tourists who pay for organ transplants without bothering to determine whether the organ donor has consented.
A second recommendation is that any person known to be involved in trafficking in the organs of prisoners in China should be barred entry by all foreign countries.
The Chinese people want the same things as Commonwealth residents everywhere, including, respect for all, education, to be safe and secure, good jobs, the rule of law, good governance and a sustainable natural environment. Living standards have improved on the coast and in other urban areas in China, but there is a huge cost. Most Chinese continue to be exploited by the party-state and firms, often owned by or contracted for manufacturing to multinationals, which operate today across their country like 19th century robber barons. This explains partly why the prices of consumer products 'made in China' seem so low—the externalities are borne by workers, their families and the natural environment.
The attempted crushing of Falun Gong, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and other independent faith groups, human rights lawyers, such as Gao Zhisheng, and other civil society communities and in recent years indicates that China's party-state must be engaged with great caution by all of our governments despite the severe ongoing world economic problems. If it ends the systematic and gross abuses of human dignity and takes major steps to indicate that it wishes to treat its trade partners in a mutually-beneficial way, the new century can bring harmony for China and its trading partners. The Chinese people for whom, like you, I have the strongest admiration have the numbers, perseverance, self-discipline, intelligence and other qualities to help make this new century better and more peaceful for the entire human family if given the opportunity.