The body of executed inmate Tseng Ssu-ju being transported to the New Taipei City Funeral Parlor. (Photo/Pan Hsin-tung)
Friday's execution of six death row inmates in Taiwan rekindled a debate among hospital administrators over the ethics of using organs from executed prisoners.
Of the six individuals executed, three of them, executed in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, respectively, expressed the wish to donate their organs, but only one — Chen Chin-huo — had his wish fulfilled.
His organs were accepted by an unnamed hospital in Taichung, one of the few hospitals in Taiwan still willing to defy the 2008 Declaration of Istanbul, which condemns organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and organs taken from prisoners.
Far Eastern Memorial Hospital, which also was willing to accept the prisoners' organs, did not use those donated by Tseng Ssu-ju because it did not have time to conduct related tests and because Tseng was identified as having a hepatitis B problem.
The organs of the third executed prisoner willing to donate them, Tai Te-ying, were not accepted by Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Kaohsiung, which cited misgivings about using the organs of executed convicts and worries about protests from human rights groups.
Ko Wen-je, director of the Department of Traumatology at National Taiwan University Hospital and the former head of the hospital's transplant team, indicated that his hospital does not use organs donated by executed prisoners.
He said there are 11 hospitals in Taiwan that currently solicit donated organs, but their attitudes toward using organs from executed prisoners vary.
Some hospitals flat out reject such organs, while some use them only in an emergency and others decline them if the patient does not agree to their use. Still other medical facilities accept them but refuse to extract them from the executed victim.
Tsai Chien-sung, director of the Department of Surgery at Tri-Service Hospital, said the main reason hospitals do not use the organs of executed prisoners is often practical rather than moral — there is simply not enough time to do related tests.
But Chu Shu-hsun, superintendent of Far Eastern Memorial Hospital and a noted cardiologist, said he believed that based on the tenets of Taoism and Buddhism, the organs of executed prisoners should not be rejected.
If death row inmates have the wish to donate organs to redeem themselves but are rejected, "it's a pity," he said.
Chu admitted to receiving several letters from abroad questioning why he used such organs and said he encountered similar questions from foreign physicians at international organ transplant meetings.
Lee Po-chang, chairman of Taiwan Organ Registry and Sharing Center, said local hospitals generally are not keen on using organs donated by executed prisoners because of the Declaration of Istanbul and human rights concerns.
Wu Ying-lai, secretary-general of the Organ Procurement Association, said, however, that the moral dilemma had another dimension, especially with roughly 8,000 patients currently waiting for donated organs in Taiwan.
Wu said death row inmates are people too, and they should be treated equally.
"The execution of the death row inmates represents the end of their crime, and the donation of organs means the beginning of love," he said, urging people in society to give each other more respect.