Compliance with ethical standards in the reporting of donor sources and ethics review in peer-reviewed publications involving organ transplantation in China

a scoping review

Wendy Rogers*, Matthew P. Robertson, Angela Ballantyne, Brette Blakely, Ruby Catsanos, Robyn Clay-Williams, Maria Fiatarone Singh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives The objective of this study is to investigate whether papers reporting research on Chinese transplant recipients comply with international professional standards aimed at excluding publication of research that: (1) involves any biological material from executed prisoners; (2) lacks Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and (3) lacks consent of donors. Design Scoping review based on Arksey and O'Mallee's methodological framework. Data sources Medline, Scopus and Embase were searched from January 2000 to April 2017. Eligibility criteria We included research papers published in peer-reviewed English-language journals reporting on outcomes of research involving recipients of transplanted hearts, livers or lungs in mainland China. Data extraction and synthesis Data were extracted by individual authors working independently following training and benchmarking. Descriptive statistics were compiled using Excel. Results 445 included studies reported on outcomes of 85 477 transplants. 412 (92.5%) failed to report whether or not organs were sourced from executed prisoners; and 439 (99%) failed to report that organ sources gave consent for transplantation. In contrast, 324 (73%) reported approval from an IRB. Of the papers claiming that no prisoners' organs were involved in the transplants, 19 of them involved 2688 transplants that took place prior to 2010, when there was no volunteer donor programme in China. Discussion The transplant research community has failed to implement ethical standards banning publication of research using material from executed prisoners. As a result, a large body of unethical research now exists, raising issues of complicity and moral hazard to the extent that the transplant community uses and benefits from the results of this research. We call for retraction of this literature pending investigation of individual papers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere024473
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • China
  • executed prisoners
  • organ donation
  • publication ethics
  • scoping review

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