On the opening day of the Genocide Olympics Peers from all sides highlight terrible crimes against humanity.
Feb 4, 2022
Today’s Parliamentary Debate On Forced Organ Harvesting – On the opening day of the Genocide Olympics Peers from all sides highlight terrible crimes against humanity. Full text:
265: After Clause 148, insert the following new Clause—
“Regulation of the public display of imported cadavers
(1) The Human Tissue Act 2004 is amended as follows.(2) In subsections (5)(a), (6)(a) and (6)(b) of section 1 (authorisation of activities for scheduled purposes) after “imported”, in each place it occurs, insert “other than for the purpose of public display”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that imported bodies for display would need the same consent requirements as bodies sourced from within the UK. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
My Lords, in moving Amendment 265 I will also speak to Amendment 282. I am glad to have the support of the noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Alton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Northover, for our endeavours.
Article 3(2) of the Universal Declaration on Combating and Preventing Forced Organ Harvesting states:
“The killing of vulnerable prisoners for the purpose of harvesting and selling their organs for transplant is an egregious and intolerable violation of the fundamental right to life.”
My two amendments seek to prevent UK citizens’ complicity in forced organ harvesting by amending the Human Tissue Act to ensure that UK citizens cannot travel to countries such as China for organ transplantation and to put a stop to the dreadful travelling circus of body exhibitions that sources deceased bodies from China.
As noble Lords know, I come from Birmingham, where in 2018 an exhibition called Real Bodies by Imagine Exhibitions visited the National Exhibition Centre. It consisted of real corpses and body parts that had gone through a process of plastination, whereby silicone plastic is injected into the body tissue to create real-life mannequins or plastinated bodies. The exhibit advertised it as using
“real human specimens that have been respectfully preserved to explore the complex inner workings of the human form in a refreshing and thought-provoking style.”
But those deceased human bodies and body parts are unclaimed bodies with no identity documents or consent, sourced from Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique in Dalian, China. Notably, Dalian labour lamp from 1999 to 2013 was notorious for its severe torturing of Falun Gong practitioners, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has reminded the House on many occasions.
The commercial exploitation of body parts in all its forms is surely unethical and unsavoury, but when it is combined with mass killings by an authoritarian state, we cannot stand by and do nothing. In 2019, the China Tribunal, led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, stated:
“The Tribunal’s members are certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.”
Most recently, further evidence was heard during the course of the Uyghur Tribunal, including from Sayragul Sauytbay, who testified during the June hearings that she discovered medical files detailing Uighur detainees’ blood types and results of liver tests while she was working at a Uighur camp. In June this year, 12 UN special procedure experts raised the issue of forced organ harvesting with the Chinese Government in response, as they said, to “credible information” that
“Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians”
are being killed for their organs in China.
The recent findings of the Uyghur Tribunal, again chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, were profoundly disturbing. We discussed some of this in our debate on genocide only a few days ago, but I think it bears repeating. The tribunal concluded:
“Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs—with some estimates well in excess of a million—have been detained by
“authorities without any, or any remotely sufficient reason, and subjected to acts of unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity … Many of those detained have been tortured for no reason, by such methods as: pulling off fingernails; beating with sticks; detaining in ‘tiger chairs’ where feet and hands were locked in position for hours or days without a break; confined in containers up to the neck in cold water; and detained in cages so small that standing or lying was impossible … Detained women—and men—have been raped and subjected to extreme sexual violence … Detainees were fed with food barely sufficient to sustain life and frequently insufficient to sustain health, food that could be withheld at whim to punish or humiliate.”
This is the context in which we debate these amendments. I feel a sense of, shall I say, sadness, at least, that this is the opening day of the China Winter Olympics.
Currently, human tissue legislation in this country covers organ transplantation within the UK itself, but it does not cover British citizens travelling abroad for transplants, and British taxpayers’ money has to pay for anti-rejection medication for those people who then come back to the UK and go to the National Health Service, regardless of where the organ was sourced. According to the excellent NHS Blood and Transplant, between 2010 and 2020, there were 29 cases on the UK transplant registry of patients being followed up in the UK after receiving a transplant in China. This is a billion-pound business in China, using the bodies of executed prisoners—mainly prisoners of conscience.
The Human Tissue Act 2004 has strict consent and documentation requirements for human tissues sourced in the UK, but it does not restrict human tissues from abroad in this way; it is merely advisory. My amendments seek to amend the Human Tissue Act in the following ways.
First, they would prohibit a UK citizen from travelling outside the UK and receiving any controlled material for the purpose of organ transplantation when the organ donor or the organ donor’s next of kin had not provided free, informed and specific consent. Secondly, they would prohibit a UK citizen from travelling outside the UK and receiving any controlled material for the purpose of organ transplantation when a living donor or third party receives a financial gain or comparable advantage; or, if from a deceased donor, a third party receives financial gain or comparable advantage. Thirdly, it would provide for the offence in Section 32 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 to be prohibited even if the offence did not take place in the UK, if the person had a close connection to our country. Fourthly, it would provide for regulations for patient-identifiable records and an annual report on instances of UK citizens receiving transplant procedures outside the UK by NHS Blood and Transplant. Finally, it would provide for imported bodies on display to have the same consent requirements as those sourced from the UK.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration on Combating and Preventing Forced Organ Harvesting says:
“All governments shall combat and prevent forced organ harvesting by providing for the criminalisation of certain acts and facilitate the criminal prosecution of forced organ harvesting both at the national and international levels.”
I believe we must take action internationally and in the UK to do all we can to prevent this abhorrent practice. I know from the success we had in the medicines Bill that a change in the law of this country has a much wider impact; it gives great encouragement to those brave people fighting these practices in China and globally. I very much hope the House will support this. I beg to move. Lord Ribeiro (Con)
My Lords, I apologise for not speaking in the Second Reading debate, for reasons of ill health.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has set out the case against genocide most convincingly. As he said, there is a risk of repetition, as we covered so many of these issues in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill in 2020 and in the noble Lord’s Organ Tourism and Cadavers on Display Bill only last year. I said then that the Human Tissue Act 2004 made it clear that written consent was required while the person was alive before donated bodies or body parts could be displayed.
The Government were supportive of our amendment in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, who I am pleased to see in her place, said the Government would undertake
“to strengthen the Human Tissue Authority’s code of practice”.—[Official Report, 12/1/21; col. 705.]
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who was here earlier, stated in summing up that the new code laid before Parliament in June 2021 was clear that
“the same consent expectations should apply for imported bodies and body parts as apply for such material sourced domestically.”
In relation to exhibitions such as “Real Bodies”, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned and to which our Amendment 265 applies, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said
“it would need proof of the donor’s specific consent to be displayed publicly after death. If it failed to provide such proof”,—[Official Report, 16/7/21; cols. 2123-24.]
that would prevent a licence being issued. In relation to organs for transplantation, our Amendment 282 makes it clear that consent must be given and that there must be no evidence of genocide in the country from which the organs are sourced.
As a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, I associate myself with the statement of December 2021 on the abuse of Uighurs in China made by the British Medical Association and the presidents of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges—of which the Royal College of Surgeons is a member—the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of Pathologists. It said:
“We … and the organisations we represent, in advance of the report of the Uyghur Tribunal, express our grave concern regarding the situation in China and the continuing abuse of the Uyghur population … as well as other minorities.”
The UN special rapporteurs have continued to raise concerns surrounding organ harvesting from Uighurs in China, which the evidence overwhelmingly suggests continues to this day, with hearts, livers, kidneys and corneas being the most commonly taken.
In January this year, the BMA condemned the appalling involvement of doctors in China in what was a fundamental abuse of human rights and genocide against the Uighurs. It urged Her Majesty’s Government to exert pressure on the Chinese Government to stop these inhumane practices and to allow the UN investigators into Xinjiang region. The Minister may wish to comment on the Government’s response.
I will leave your Lordships with a quote from Dr Zoe Greaves, chairman of the BMA ethics committee. She said:
“It is a doctor’s duty to help improve health and ease suffering, not to inflict it on others. The use of medical science and expertise to commit atrocities is abominable and represents an appalling antithesis to every doctor’s pledge to ‘first, do no harm’”.3.45pm Baroness Northover (LD)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has introduced Amendments 265 and 282 on this appalling subject extremely effectively and I wish to make clear the support for both those amendments from these Benches. I am also sympathetic to the different but separate Amendment 297H on tissue being retained for research, educational and audit purposes, which would bring legislation in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland and which I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will address shortly.
To return to the issue of human abuse—it is more than the abuse of tissue—this subject has been much debated in your Lordships’ House and I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Alton, and others for making sure that we do so and for ensuring that step by step we make progress. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, for listening and engaging, for her responsiveness when dealing with the issue and for helping to take it forward in earlier legislation. However, we all know that there is a distance to go.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, these amendments seek to protect UK citizens from complicity in forced organ harvesting and organ trafficking. Amendment 282 prohibits UK citizens from travelling to countries for the purpose of organ transplantation. The restrictions are based on ensuring appropriate consent, with no coercion and no financial gain. If appropriate consent is not given, the country supplying the organ must have a legitimate opt-out system in place and must not be considered to be committing genocide, as now determined, as the Government have moved to agree, by resolution of the House of Commons. This will be based on an annual assessment by the Secretary of State.
We cannot say that we do not now know about forced organ harvesting. We also have the reports of both the China Tribunal and Uyghur Tribunal and much other evidence. I pay tribute to the FCDO for engaging in relation to the Uyghur Tribunal. As the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, mentioned, UN human rights experts have called on the Chinese Government to allow independent monitoring by international human rights bodies. If China had nothing to hide, it would accede. We have previously debated the conclusions of the China Tribunal and referred briefly to the Uyghur Tribunal. In 2020, the China Tribunal reported:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale”.
As I said, more recently we have had the Uyghur Tribunal reports, which give a lot more detail. A number of countries, including Spain, Italy, Belgium, Norway and Israel, have already taken action to prevent organ tourism to China. We surely must do the same.
Amendment 265 aims to put a stop to real human body exhibitions being put on display in the UK when the cadavers do not have proof of identity or consent, such as those sourced from China. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, laid this out clearly. Almost a decade and a half ago, exhibitors in New York were forced to add a disclaimer stating that these bodies came from China and could have come from prisons, which clearly rubbished the idea that people had willingly donated their bodies for such displays.
Once again, certain countries, including France and Israel, and certain US cities have banned such body exhibitions from coming into their territories. We have high standards for dealing with human tissue in this country, as noble Lords are aware. Various noble Lords here today, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have played a part in producing those. We need to make sure that we do not become complicit in what happens elsewhere, particularly—as we speak—in China. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have made it crystal clear that we know what happens. I therefore commend these amendments. Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, I am raising my voice to speak in favour of Amendments 265 and 282. Following the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I hope that it demonstrates to the Minister that there is widespread concern from all parts of your Lordships’ House, especially in support of these amendments. It also gives me the chance to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the leadership that he has given on this issue. He has been dogged and focused, insisting that we ensure that this country never becomes complicit in one of the greatest crimes committed against humanity. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Penn—like others, I am pleased to see her back in her usual place. During the course of the earlier legislation, she was not only receptive in dealing with the issues that we raised, but organised meetings for us at the department with officials. I thought that the attitude that was shown at that time was exemplary and I am grateful to her.
It disturbs me that, although the United Kingdom signed the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs, unlike 11 other European countries the United Kingdom has not ratified it. I would be grateful if the Minister, when he comes to reply, could say why we have not and whether we have any intentions of doing so. In addition, though, the signature of the United Kingdom has the following reservation:
“In accordance with the provisions of paragraph 3 of Article 10 and paragraph 1 of Article 30 of the Convention, the Government of the United Kingdom reserves the right not to apply the jurisdiction rules laid down in paragraph 1.d and e of Article 10 of the Convention.”
Given all that we now know and what has been said in your Lordships’ House this afternoon, I wonder whether we are going to persist with that reservation. The reservation means that the United Kingdom does not have to take legislative or other measures to establish jurisdiction over any offence established in accordance with the convention when the offence is committed by a UK national or a habitual resident of the United Kingdom, unless it is within our own territory. Therefore, in short, the reservation means that even if it were to be ratified, it would not prohibit citizens of the United Kingdom from partaking in unethical organ tourism.
Let us not forget why the Human Tissue Act was created in the first place. Thousands of families, some in my former constituency in the city of Liverpool, had devastatingly found their deceased family members, including children, had had their body parts and organs removed and kept in National Health Service facilities without consent. The Liverpool Alder Hey scandal created a public outcry and it was our parliamentary duty to respond and take appropriate legislative action, as we did.
Today, throughout China, forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience is taking place. What legislative action are we going to take concerning that? The predominant victims have been Falun Gong practitioners, the Buddhist spiritual meditation group that, at its peak in 1999, had an estimated 100 million adherents in China. The former CCP leader, Jiang Zemin, set up the 610 Office and gave the order to—his word—eradicate Falun Gong. It is believed by many experts that, while young Falun Gong organs gradually became less available over the years, the CCP—the Chinese Communist Party—began to also target Uighurs, as we have heard this afternoon, for forced organ harvesting, with the same torture methods, blood tests and organ scans happening in the Uighur camps as those in the Falun Gong camps. There are also some lines of evidence of Tibetans and Christians in China, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suffering the same fate. I should declare my interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs and as a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response.
For those who had any doubts about China’s state-sanctioned organ harvesting, it is worth noting that as early as 1994 Human Rights Watch reported that
“it has become increasingly evident that executed prisoners are the principal source of supply of body organs for medical transplantation purposes in China”,
“executions are even deliberately mishandled to ensure that the prisoners are not yet dead when their organs are removed.”
Dr Enver Tohti, a Uighur doctor whom I have personally met and taken statements from, described to me that he had been required to remove organs and ordered to “cut deep and work fast” on a victim who was still alive. The theft of organs has been described as an almost perfect crime, because no one survives. Just this week Dr Tohti was interviewed by the London Evening Standard, from which I quote:
“Driven well out of town, he recalls: ‘There was a small hut and two surgeons there waiting. They said, “wait here and come around when you hear gun shots”. Time passed and I started to hear the noise of people shouting, chanting, whistles blowing, trucks running, then gun shots, many rifles shooting at the same time. So, we got in the van and came around the mountain to find 10 corpses in prisoners’ clothes with shaved heads on the left side slope of the mountains.’ He was called away from the corpses to the body of another man in civilian clothes and was told ‘that is yours’, and ordered to remove the liver and kidneys. The man was not dead. ‘I had no choice but to harvest the organs,’ he said.”
It is extraordinary, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that on this day of all days, when what are now known as the “Genocide Games” are beginning in Beijing, we should be having this timely debate in your Lordships’ House. Not since 1936, when the Nazi games were held in Berlin and the world saw Hitler use the Olympics to promote his hideous ideology, and most Jewish German athletes were barred from taking part in the Games, have we seen the Olympic ideal so scandalously debased.
However, forced organ harvesting is just one of many human rights abuses taking place in China. Other noble Lords have referred to Sir Geoffrey Nice’s Uyghur Tribunal, which met here in Westminster in Church House. I sat through many of its hearings and, during our recent debate on this Bill concerning genocide and the purchasing of equipment and medical supplies from places such as Xinjiang, I heard harrowing accounts from those who gave evidence to that tribunal. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC—the prosecutor in the Milosevic trials, who knows more about these issues than probably any other living person—and his panel came to the conclusion that what is happening in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has said, so has the House of Commons—and, indeed, so has our Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, who has said “it is a genocide”.
Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered torture, rape and forced abortion and sterilisation by the CCP, but the crime does not end there. There is a further twist to this infamy. Anonymous plastinated corpses taken from Chinese prisons have been paraded, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, told us earlier, in a carnival of horrors at money-making exhibitions, a final sneering insult to these victims. In 2018, after the exhibition that the noble Lord referred to, I wrote to the Times, along with Professor Jo Martin, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, and 55 others. We said:
“We believe that the legislation requires reform.”
However, I would go further—here, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who it is good to see in her place—and ask why on earth we allow these things at all. There should be a complete prohibition by law.
I conclude by returning to the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The Olympic charter states:
“Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
The irony of that is beyond belief. This simply should not be acceptable, at least to those corporations and companies that are sponsoring the Games in Beijing, such as Coca-Cola. The China Tribunal stated:
“Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the”
People’s Republic of China
“should now recognise that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.”
We must do more to stop these human rights abuses. I wholeheartedly support the amendments, which are not country-specific but would serve to close the loopholes in the Human Tissue Act so that the United Kingdom could do its part in preventing collaboration in these appalling crimes.4.00pm Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
My Lords, I declare my interest as an elected member of the BMA ethics committee, which looked at these issues and was involved in producing the statement quoted earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro. I strongly support these amendments and cannot see any reason for anyone not to. They set a basic moral standard. As the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Alton and Lord Ribeiro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, have laid out, the arguments they have given us are in many ways only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more than could be said.
Our Human Tissue Authority’s guiding principles have a code of practice which has consent, dignity, quality, honesty, and openness as key pillars. These principles should reflect not only how human tissue is sourced from within our own nation but how we treat human tissue and organs from overseas. There is overwhelming evidence now that in China, Falun Gong practitioners and Uighurs, Tibetans and house Christians are being killed on demand for their organs. There is no consent, no dignity and no transparency. Only yesterday I received a letter from a woman whose mother had been a Falun Gong practitioner, and who has been in prison and effectively disappeared. She has no idea where her mother is; she has not heard from her. That is happening all over this population.
I will not repeat the statement that has already been read out, but I just hope that the Government can see that we have a moral obligation to accept these amendments. I hope that they will do so.
Amendment 297H, in my name, is supported by the Royal College of Pathologists. Post-mortem examinations here are subject to careful legislative control and we have the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013, which oversee post-mortems. When a post-mortem happens, it happens without the consent of the next of kin, of course, because there are questions around the cause of death. The coroners’ statistics for England and Wales in 2020 show that 79,400 post-mortem examinations were ordered by coroners. A fifth included histology and a quarter included toxicology samples being taken.
When the coroner’s work is complete, the tissue samples and any fluids taken—the tissue being in the form of blocks and slides—must be destroyed unless specific consent has been provided by someone in a qualifying relationship. However, consent is logistically very difficult to obtain in practice. The McCracken review of the Human Tissue Act in 2013 recommended that:
“Consideration should be given (inter alia) to reducing the scope so that microscope slide and tissue block samples and bodily products such as saliva, urine, and faeces are excluded”.
The Government accepted this recommendation, but the issue has not subsequently progressed.
There are some real difficulties with post-mortems. A post-mortem is effectively a snapshot of the deceased at the point of death. It is only by going back into the clinical records that the pathologist gets some picture of what happened pre-mortem, and many of the other factors. But at the end of the day, it is often subjective in terms of determining the likely cause of death for the report that is then signed off. In Scotland, tissue blocks and slides are deemed to be part of the clinical record and therefore do not have to be destroyed after the procurator fiscal’s investigations are complete. However, no whole organs can be retained in Scotland without explicit consent. In the light of Alder Hey, it is important to stress that point.
Changing to a system that reflects Scottish law could be beneficial because it would provide information about the cause of death if new circumstances came to light months or years after an investigation was complete. Indeed, we have recently had the case of the Farquhar family, where the evidence of long-term poisoning probably came to light many years after the person had died. Crucially, forensic deaths can be masked by natural disease processes and storage of tissues and fluids as part of the medical record would help clarify these at a later date when new information came to light. In a way, that is essential for completion of justice.
In addition, genomics research is rapidly developing, so the family may want to access the tissue later on as disease processes become more clarified. Metabolic storage disorders such as Fabry or Gaucher disease have been examples of this.
The tissue blocks from post-mortems are usually larger than the small pieces of tissue in a biopsy from a living person. That is particularly relevant where you want a piece of the heart or the brain, because a large biopsy from a living person would be impossible. There is also a third use of these tissue blocks and slides, which is as teaching material for autopsy pathologists. There is now a real shortage of teaching material, not only for pathologists who are in training but for ongoing audit of pathology processes.
So this amendment would bring the Human Tissue Act in line with the position in the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, where tissue samples as blocks and slides, but not—I stress not—organs, automatically become part of the person’s medical record after a post mortem. Explicit consent to keep them does not have to be sought from a grieving family, but it would allow justice in the long term to be pursued if necessary, and it would allow better development of autopsy pathologists. Lord Cormack (Con)
My Lords, I apologise for missing the first minute—but it was only the first minute—of the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I am delighted to add my support to his initiative, most splendidly supported by my noble friend Lord Ribeiro. We entered this House on the very same day and it was very good to hear what he had to say. Of course, the noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, all have an impeccable record on these matters. Earl Howe (Con)
I hope that my noble friend will forgive me but, as he was not here at the beginning of the debate, strictly speaking it is not permitted for him to speak. If he could make his remarks brief, I am sure that would be appropriate; I do not want to stop him mid-flow. Lord Cormack (Con)
Well, I certainly was going to make my remarks brief, and I am sorry that I was detained for one minute. I just want to give my wholehearted support to these amendments. There is no more despicable trade than the trade in human organs and no more despicable practices than those that are going on in China at the moment, simultaneously with the opening of the shameful Games. I very much hope that my noble friend, who so politely interrupted me, will be able to give us a very supportive statement when he comes to wind up this debate. Lord Sentamu (CB)
My Lords, I also stand to support Amendments 265 and 282. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Alton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Finlay.
I declare an interest as, quite a number of years ago now, I was one of those who signed up to say that, at the moment of death, all my organs will be left to the National Health Service for any scientific work that may be required. I carry a card, but it says that my organs should be kept in this country and not exported anywhere else, because I have no trust that they would not be used for purposes for which they were not intended.
When I was doing philosophy in Cambridge, Professor Williams posed a question. He said “Surprising things happen—that they are no longer surprising. Comment.” Noble Lords who have done philosophy will know how complicated that question is.
In Uganda, Idi Amin was known for the people that he feared most. He would cut off their heads, put them in the fridge, and put their organs in another fridge. People did not believe this, and he was overthrown. His treating of the human body like something you simply dispose of was horrific. No wonder a lot of people died under that terrible Government of his when he was in power. What we are being asked is: should the standards in this country also be somehow given over to other countries so that they can learn? But we too have got to be very careful that our standards are as high as the tissue Act says.
We live in a world that is so perilous at times, and where some people may disappear and you never see them. In Uganda, quite a number of leading people disappeared and, up to today, we do not know where they went. The thing is, they would be put in drums of acid and their bodies would be dissolved. Surprising things happen—that they are no longer surprising. May we be so vigilant. These two amendments do the job, so I hope that the Minister when he responds will have heard the urgency in the speeches, but, most of all, in the amendments themselves. Baroness Thornton (Lab)
My Lords, can I say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Alton? They know I have been with them on this journey throughout. I probably would go a bit further than my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 265, because I believe that this country should follow the example of France and ban the exhibition of plasticised cadavers and human body parts.
In 2019, we had an OQ on this, which many noble Lords here today took part in. I said at that time that there is an
“ethical issue at play here”
and that it seemed that the businesses that had
“the exhibitions which use plasticised cadavers and foetuses for supposedly educational purposes could use modern materials and production to create the same exhibits. That begs the question: why use cadavers and human body parts at all? If the answer is that people want to see such things and will pay to do so, I remind noble Lords that people used to flock … to see public executions until 1868.”
It is an ethical issue. I am afraid that the noble Baroness answering that debate at the time said that
“the ethical position is not one for government.”—[Official Report, 27/2/21; cols. 228-29.]
Well, I would say that this debate shows that the ethical position is absolutely one for government. Earl Howe (Con)
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and many other noble Lords for bringing these amendments relating to these important and sensitive issues to the Committee today.
Amendment 265 seeks to prohibit the use of imported bodies or parts of bodies for the purpose of public display without the specific consent of the donor. The Government share the concern motivating Amendment 265 that bodies may in the past have been displayed in public exhibitions without the donors’ consent. We therefore committed in this House, during the passage of the Medicines and Medical Devices Act, to address this concern, and have since worked closely with the Human Tissue Authority to strengthen its code of practice on public display, which was laid before Parliament last July. The code now guarantees that robust assurances on consent for all donor bodies, including imported bodies, are fully received, assessed and recorded, before the authority issues any licence for public display. The Government therefore do not believe that this amendment is necessary.4.15pm
I listened with great attention to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Alton, my noble friends Lord Ribeiro and Lord Cormack, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Northover, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, on these grave matters on which they spoke so powerfully. We covered much of that ground in the debate we held on Monday of this week, the details of which have been very clearly noted.
On the specifics of Amendment 282, it is already an offence to arrange or facilitate another person’s travel, including travel outside the UK, for the purposes of their exploitation, which includes the supply of organs for reward in any part of the world. The Human Tissue Act also already prohibits the giving of a reward for the supply of, or for an offer to supply, controlled material in any circumstance where a substantial part of the illicit transaction takes place in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Not only does existing legislation already capture many instances of organ tourism, we are also concerned that this amendment could cause significant unintended consequences as a result of criminalising the recipient of an organ, rather than the supplier and buyer. This amendment creates the risk of vulnerable transplant patients facing the prospect of imprisonment after being misled as to the provenance of their organ.
Finally, we are not convinced that extending existing offences would deter a determined organ tourist. All indications suggest that the scale of organ tourism by UK patients is small. This informs our belief that the best way to tackle it is to continue on the path of improving the rates and outcomes of legitimate organ donations while maintaining the highest standards of care for those in need of an organ. I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his questions about the convention, but let me add that we are working with key stakeholders to assess what more can be done about this issue and are committed to informing those in need of an organ transplant of the legal, health and ethical impacts of purchasing an organ overseas. As I noted, our belief is that the best approach is to focus on continuing to increase the availability of legitimately donated organs. Lord Ribeiro (Con)
My Lords, would it be possible to collect data to substantiate what my noble friend has said about the reduction in people going overseas to get organs for transplantation? Can we get some figures to be absolutely clear that the numbers are reducing and not continuing, as some of us fear? Earl Howe (Con)
I expect it is possible to capture some data but, of course, there will always be cases of people going overseas who are invisible to those who collect data, and we can never guard against that. Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
I will follow the noble Lord’s point. Even though it may be impossible to collect credible data on people leaving who are not going to say they are going overseas to collect organs, when they return—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out—many of them will receive treatment and care inside the National Health Service as a result of having an organ that has not come from within the United Kingdom. That is data that could surely be collected. Earl Howe (Con)
The noble Lord makes a very good point and, if I may, I will investigate the feasibility of doing that and what systems are in place to capture that kind of data.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her Amendment 297H, which covers the retention and use of tissues after coroner post-mortem examinations. I of course share the commitment to promoting education and research. However, I am afraid I do not believe that this amendment represents the right approach to supporting this aim. I appreciate that the noble Baroness emphasised that she was referring to blocks, slides and urine samples; the amendment refers to tissue samples. The advice I have received is that it is important that we remain committed to the principle that consent is fundamental to how we treat the remains of the deceased. I remember the passage of the Human Tissue Act; the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was absolutely right in what he said earlier about that. All of us should have a choice about what happens to our bodies after we die, and if we cannot exercise that choice, those close to us should be able to.
Post-mortems can already be distressing to the families of the deceased. Denying them a say as to what happens to the remains of their loved ones will compound that distress—often unnecessarily, as many of the retained tissues will never be put to use.
There are three other defects, as I see them, in the amendment; I am concerned that it would allow tissues to be stored indefinitely; it would allow for an overly broad interpretation of what constitutes a tissue sample—that is, in fact, my main concern; and it does not address the considerable challenge of how to effectively catalogue, audit or access the large amount of new material that would have to be retained.
Having said that, I believe that under the current consent-based model we can and should do more to encourage the active identification of tissues that could serve an important purpose, and to communicate the significance of retaining this tissue to the deceased’s family when seeking their consent. I understand the force of what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve and there may be different ways of doing that.
While I am grateful to noble Lords for their amendments in this area, I respectfully ask them to withdraw or not press them at this stage. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
Will the Minister undertake that the Government ask the Scottish Government about their experience of retaining tissue blocks and slides? Only tissue blocks and slides—not, I stress, organs—are being retained as part of the clinical record, so that we have some information about problems that have arisen. Also, given that the Government accepted the McCracken review, how do they then intend to implement that acceptance? If you accept the need to have consent, there has to be a process by which consent is obtained. You cannot ask for consent prior to the post-mortem because the post-mortem is a judicial process. Earl Howe (Con)
I noted that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness is closely modelled on the current law in Scotland. Because of that, it fails to account for the significant differences between how Scotland, and England, Wales and Northern Ireland, regulate the storage and use of human tissue. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that storage and use is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. In Scotland, there is no equivalent body and the amendment is silent as to what impact it would have on the authority, especially given the challenges involved in managing the great quantity of tissue that would be retained.
I am aware that many Scots share my concerns about consent for retaining tissue. A recent petition to the Scottish Government highlighted the anguish faced by a grieving mother on learning that she did not have the choice to have some of her child’s remains returned to her. She was upset at how long it took for those remains even to be located, so although this amendment would apply only to adults the same kind of issues would apply. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
My Lords, it has been a very good debate. First, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that I sympathise with her Amendment 297H, but clearly it is a sensitive area. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned Alder Hey; I had ministerial responsibility at the time, and it was very traumatic meeting the parents of children who, in the end, had body parts buried up to three times or more because of the dreadful way in which both the hospital and university managed the situation, as well as the pathologist himself. On the other hand, the reasons put forward by the noble Baroness seem very persuasive, and I hope there will be a continuing debate on this with the Government.
As far as my two amendments are concerned, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Thornton for their support. As the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, said, the concession given by the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, on behalf of the Government during discussions on the then Medicines and Medical Devices Bill was highly significant both for this country and for the message it gave globally. The debate today, and the amendments, are as much about global messages as UK legislation.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, we cannot say that we do not know; we do know. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, sat through many of the harrowing sessions of the Uyghur Tribunal and the evidence—before a hard-headed panel—is absolutely convincing. There can be no doubt that this is an abhorrent practice and, as my noble friend Lady Thornton said, it may not be on the same scale but these wretched exhibitions that take place are a product of those abhorrent practices. She has persuaded me that my amendment is rather soft and needs to be hardened up. I look forward to her helping me to get the wording right.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the HTA code of practice; I think we need to go further than that. On organ tourism, I will obviously study very carefully the issues that he raised about my amendments, but we have the figures from NHS Blood and Transplant: I think 29 people have come to the NHS for help following a transplant abroad, which gives us some clue as to the numbers but clearly it is not the whole picture. At the end of the day, you come back to the issue of ourselves and China. Clearly, there is huge ambiguity in our policy, whether that is to do with security, trade or human rights. Some of that ambiguity is understandable, given the scale and size of the Chinese economy—we understand that—but I do not think there is any room at all for ambiguity about this country making a strong response to these appalling practices. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.