Health, House of Lords, Human Rights, Parliament, Speeches

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill

Posted by Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I fully support Amendment 24. The issue of organ harvesting was raised in the other place and at Second Reading by me and other noble Lords. The ability to use human tissue in medicines and transplants saves many lives and is a great achievement of modern science. However, we need to make sure that the way human tissue is obtained and used is completely ethical. At the moment, we do not have legislation that properly stops organs that have been obtained forcibly or without proper consent from entering the UK. That is completely unacceptable.

We should be greatly concerned about the treatment of Muslim Uighurs and Falun Gong in China. The detention and persecution of these innocent people is a crime against humanity. Millions are suffering in inhumane conditions. They are tortured and a great many have been murdered. Last year, the China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, concluded that forced organ harvesting in China had been practised for a substantial time, involving a substantial number of victims. The tribunal also found that Muslim Uighurs were used as an organ bank.

The British Medical Journal found that 99% of studies that looked at organ transplants in China did not report whether the organs used were donated with consent. This is unacceptable and a disturbing violation of human rights. It is also illegal. Furthermore, The Economics of Organ Harvesting in China report found that large profits had been made from organ harvesting.

I appreciate that although the companies, including British ones, may not be directly involved with organ harvesting, they could be part of a wider system that provides devices, drugs, materials and know-how for transplantation. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC also stated that anyone interacting with the People’s Republic of China was interacting with a criminal state. If we do not have proper checks on human tissue entering the UK, we risk being complicit in this crime.

Organ harvesting is not limited to China. There are gangs and traffickers all over the world that exploit vulnerable people to obtain organs without any proper aftercare. This coercion is also illegal and must be stopped. Through this amendment we can prevent this happening and close the gaps in our existing legislation. For instance, the Human Tissue Act 2004 has strict consent and documentation requirements for tissue in the UK, but does not enforce the same standards for ?imported tissue. Instead, it advises only that the same standards should be applied. Although the human tissue regulations 2007 ensure that there is proper documentation and tracking from donor to recipient, they request details on how consent was obtained and look into whether the donation was voluntary or unpaid or not with consent at all. This means that there is no legislation against importing organs that have been obtained involuntarily and without consent.

We must accept this amendment so we can make better regulations that uphold human rights and values. By including the ability to make provisions about the origin and treatment of human tissue used in developing and manufacturing medicines, this amendment means that we can make regulations if there are any concerns as to whether consent has been given. This amendment would require that informed, unforced and properly documented consent must be given for all tissue entering the United Kingdom. At present we do not have appropriate safeguards against forced organ harvesting or human tissue. Innocent people are tortured and killed while businesses and some Governments have made a profit.

This amendment is an opportunity to take a proper stand against organ harvesting and to have a statutory commitment. Through this amendment we can ensure that all human tissue imports are ethical. During Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Bethell stated that the idea that any British companies profit from these trades is abhorrent. This is an abhorrent practice. We must put a stop to it and therefore we need to pass this amendment. I emphasise that it is our moral duty to do so.


Link to full debate on Hansard

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