Professor Lu Chongmao, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Medical and Health Services, has recently stirred controversy by suggesting that his city and the mainland should establish a long-term system for cross-border organ imports.

The remarks came after Hong Kong doctors successfully saved a 4-month-old baby girl named Cleo Lai by performing a heart transplant supplied by the mainland. According to the South China Morning Post, the donor was brain-dead after a car accident and was four months old. Feng Huang Television reported that it was carefully delivered to Hong Kong and was obtained legally.

In a Weibo post on December 17, the Hong Kong health secretary said it was an exceptional event that they could find a donor for an infant. As soon as they discovered the car-accident victim matched Cleo Lai, they delivered the heart just in time before it deteriorated. 

State media Xinhua News Agency reported that Lu Chongmao said, “It was a race against the longest storage time of four hours before a heart has to be transplanted.”

The report also added that he “hoped [Cleo’s] case could help establish a long-term mechanism and include Hong Kong’s hospitals into COTRS in order that organs donated by [mainland] citizens could be used to save Hong Kong and mainland residents’ lives.”

COTRS stands for the China Organ Transplant Response System.

The original article has disappeared from the publication but remains widely printed by other news outlets based in Hong Kong, such as the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong01, and Ming Pao. Weibo searches for the girl’s name are generating no results. At least, as of December 21, similar remarks from Lu were still available on China’s government mouthpiece Global Times.

Radio Free Asia noted that one major concern is that the surgery involves very young minors, and the patient and the donor were only four months old. The publication believes there is a universal consensus that trading organs from minors should be prohibited because they lack the mental and emotional maturity necessary for autonomy and are, therefore, more prone to becoming exploited against their will.

Another concern is China’s infamous forced organ harvesting records that aim straight at prisoners of conscience and minorities. Although the Chinese government claimed that it stopped the practice in 2015, subsequent reports showed that the operation had become more carefully hidden

In 2020, the China Tribunal, led by human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice, released a report that “confirmed beyond reasonable doubt” that China had been using executed prisoners of conscience as a source of transplant organs for many years.”

Last year, UN human rights experts said they received credible information that ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities prisoners in China have been used as “living organ sources that facilitate organ allocation.”

Jiefu Huang, a former Chinese deputy health minister, once admitted that 90% of organ transplants came from executed prisoners. China has kept the number of executed prisoners per year a state secret.

A former doctor in Hong Kong, identified as Dr. Li 李, told Radio Free Asia that he doesn’t trust China’s organ system. The city still has trustable regulations that ensure donor organs come from legitimate sources. But if Lu’s suggestion came to fruition, he is worried the mainland’s shady organ trading industry would spread to Hong Kong.

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