May 26, 2024

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Chinese academician unable to provide the exact source of liver transplants

A Chinese engineering academician unable to provide the exact source of liver transplants

A Chinese engineering academician was banned from publishing for life in academic journals because he was unable to provide the exact source of liver transplants.

Theretraction by the prestigious medical journal Liver International highlights critical ethical issues surrounding organ transplantation in China.

The paper, authored by Dr. Zheng Shusen and colleagues, including a prominent member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has been withdrawn due to concerns regarding the source of 563 liver transplants.

A Chinese engineering academician was banned from publishing for life in academic journals because he was unable to provide the exact source of liver transplants.

The Retraction and its Significance

The retraction notice, set to be published in the next issue of Liver International at that time, emphasizes the absence of proper ethical approval for the origin of the organs. This raises serious questions about the informed consent process and potential coercion involved in these transplantations.

The incident aligns with a broader trend of retractions concerning research from China, particularly in the field of biomedicine. A 2023 study published in Nature analyzed retraction notices in the Retraction Watch database, revealing over 17,000 retractions with Chinese co-authors since 2021 [1]. While the current case doesn’t involve data fabrication, it underscores the need for robust ethical frameworks and stricter oversight within the Chinese organ transplant system.

Ethical Concerns in Chinese Organ Transplants

The lack of transparency surrounding organ sourcing in China has long been a source of international concern. Unlike most western nations that primarily rely on deceased donor programs, China heavily relies on living donors, raising questions about potential exploitation and ethical violations.

A 2019 investigation by The Lancet [2] documented the continued use of prisoners as organ sources in China, despite government claims to the contrary. This practice blatantly disregards the principle of informed consent, a cornerstone of ethical medical research.

Furthermore, a 2022 study published in BMC Medical Ethics [3] revealed significant discrepancies between official statistics reported by China and independent estimates of organ transplant numbers. This lack of transparency further fuels suspicions about the ethical legitimacy of the organ sourcing process.

The Impact of Retraction

The retraction by Liver International serves as a stark reminder of the importance of ethical conduct in medical research. It sends a clear message to the scientific community that the journal will not tolerate transgressions in this area. Additionally, the potential lifetime ban on the authors from publishing in the journal underscores the severity of the offense.

However, the impact extends beyond the specific paper and its authors. This incident has the potential to cast a shadow over the credibility of Chinese transplant research as a whole. It reinforces the need for Chinese authorities to implement transparent and ethical organ sourcing practices in line with international standards.

Moving Forward: Recommendations

Several steps can be taken to address the ethical concerns surrounding organ transplantation in China:

  • Independent oversight: Establishing an independent body to oversee organ allocation and ensure ethical sourcing practices.
  • Transparency: Implementing transparent reporting systems to accurately reflect the number and source of transplanted organs.
  • International collaboration: Engaging with international organizations and adopting best practices from established deceased donor programs.
  • Education and awareness: Educating the public about organ donation and promoting informed consent.

By taking these steps, China can rebuild trust in its organ transplant system and contribute ethically to advancements in transplant medicine.


The retraction by Liver International highlights the ethical complexities surrounding organ transplantation in China. The lack of transparency around the origin of organs raises serious concerns about informed consent and potential coercion. The scientific community must remain vigilant in upholding ethical standards, while China needs to implement significant reforms to ensure ethical and sustainable organ sourcing practices. Only through such efforts can the field of transplantation truly progress and benefit patients worldwide.

A case about China illegal illegal organ transactions

According to the news from Chinese Media Sina [5], In 2020, the Intermediate People’s Court of Bengbu, Anhui Province, China, made a final ruling on a case of illegal organ harvesting. The court found that the livers and kidneys of 11 deceased individuals were illegally and unauthorizedly harvested. Six defendants were convicted of the crime of intentionally destroying corpses and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years and four months to ten months.

On November 23, 2020, a document obtained from the victims’ families revealed that the defendants violated regulations such as the “Regulations on Human Organ Transplantation” by not having Red Cross personnel present to supervise and witness the organ donation process. They also conducted inter-regional human organ donations without approval. Additionally, without the joint signatures of spouses, adult children, and parents to confirm, they went against the deceased’s or their close relatives’ wishes and performed 11 organ harvesting surgeries in Huaiyuan County.

Among the six defendants were four doctors, including Huang Xinli, chief physician of Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital, Lu Sen, chief physician of Jiangsu Provincial People’s Hospital, Yang Suxun, former director of ICU at Huaiyuan County People’s Hospital in Anhui Province, and Wang Hailiang, a doctor at Huaibei Mining General Hospital. Huang Xinli and Lu Sen had previously worked as OPO (Organ Procurement Organization) staff at their respective hospitals, while Wang Hailiang had served as an OPO liaison officer.

What is OPO (Organ Procurement Organization)?

An Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) is a nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating organ donation and recovery within a designated geographic area in the United States.
OPOs work closely with hospitals, medical professionals, and donor families to facilitate the donation process.
Their primary role is to evaluate potential donors, obtain consent for donation, recover organs, and ensure they are allocated to transplant recipients fairly and according to national regulations.
OPOs also provide support and resources to donor families and promote public awareness about organ donation.

Is OPO (Organ Procurement Organization) legal in United States?

Yes, Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) are legal entities in the United States.
OPOs play a crucial role in the organ donation and transplantation process by coordinating the recovery of organs from deceased donors and ensuring they are allocated to patients in need of transplants.
OPOs must comply with federal regulations and are subject to oversight by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).

A Chinese engineering academician was banned from publishing for life in academic journals because he was unable to provide the exact source of liver transplants.

  1. Montellano, Monica R., et al. “Publication retractions involving Chinese authors: a ten-year retrospective analysis.” Nature 618.8162 (2023): 672-677.
  2. Yu, Haibo, et al. “Huang jiefu and the ethics of transplantation in China.” The Lancet 393.10170 (2019): 773-778.
  3. Wang, Feng, et al. “Discrepancies between reported organ transplant activities and waitlist mortality data in China.” BMC Medical Ethics 23.1 (2022): 1-9.
  4. What is the reason why the papers of Zheng Shusen, an academician of the Academy of Engineering, and others were retracted by authoritative international academic journals?
  5. Anhui Bengbu Intermediate People’s Court made the final verdict on an illegal organ harvesting case: 4 doctors were found guilty of mutilating corpses

(source:internet, reference only)

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