HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said police will investigate suspicious requests from people seeking to opt out of the city’s organ donation system, condemning the alleged attempt to harm the program as shameful.
The city’s organ donation registration system has received nearly 5,800 requests for removal in the five months since December, when the government raised the possibility of establishing a mutual assistance transplant program of organs with mainland China. More than half of withdrawal requests turned out to be invalid, either as duplicate requests or from people who had never signed up.
At a regular press conference on Tuesday, Lee pointed the finger at those who withdrew without ever registering, calling the moves suspicious.
“I strongly condemn those who attempt to damage this noble system that saves lives through organ donation,” he said. “It’s a shameful act.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, has a separate system for matching donated organs to patients and has no permanent mechanism for sharing cadaveric organs with institutions in mainland China. Cross-border organ transplants were allowed on a case-by-case basis.
Under an opt-in system, Hong Kong currently has more than 357,000 registrants in the financial hub which is home to 7 million people. Organ donations have been met with resistance in Hong Kong and China due to an ingrained cultural desire to keep bodies intact.
The government issued a strong statement on Monday, saying it could not rule out that a small number of people made withdrawal attempts in an attempt to undermine the reputation of the system and increase the administrative burden. Without naming any platforms or individuals, he said a small number of people had misrepresented the virtue of organ donation by promoting the idea that donors should verify the identity of recipients online. Some also urged others to withdraw from the system, he added.
On Hong Kong’s Reddit-like forum LIHKG – where pro-democracy supporters discussed strategies for the 2019 anti-government movement – some users were skeptical of the proposed system. Others posted a link to make registry withdrawals.
The Hong Kong government launched the proposal after a baby girl underwent the city’s first transplant using a heart donated by mainland China in December. He said the organ assistance program under study could be activated immediately after medical staff were unable to match a donated organ with a locally suitable patient.
The political row over the proposed mutual assistance scheme reflected some Hong Kongers’ mistrust of China’s health care system, as well as their grievances towards Beijing, which has cracked down on the city’s pro-democracy movement with a sweeping law on national security..
Hong Kong’s medical standards are considered to be among the highest in the world. While China’s medical system has advanced over the past decades, many Hong Kongers remain skeptical of its healthcare services. Allegations of Forced Organ Harvesting in China, particularly targeting minorities in detention, have heightened concerns about cross-border organ cooperation.
In 2015, Beijing stopped organ transplants taken on executed prisoners in response to human rights concerns and later provided data to the international community to show it was fighting against illegal organ transplants.