A journal has decided to retract a 2016 study because of concerns that its data on the safety of liver transplantation involved organs sourced from executed prisoners in China. The action, taken despite a denial by the study’s authors that such organs were used, comes after clinical ethicist Wendy Rogers of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues authored a letter to the editor of Liver International on 30 January, calling for the paper’s retraction in the “absence of credible evidence of ethical sourcing of organs.”
For years, Chinese officials have come under fire for allegedly allowing the use of organs from executed prisoners for transplants, including for foreigners coming to the country for so-called medical tourism. In January 2015, it explicitly banned the practice and set up a volunteer donation system, but doubts persist that much has changed.
The disputed study—published online in October 2016—analyzed 563 consecutive liver transplantations performed before the ban (from April 2010 to October 2014) at a medical center in China. Suspicious, Rogers organized the protest letter to the journal. “Publication of data from prisoners is ethically inappropriate given that it [is] not possible to ensure that the prisoners freely agreed either to donate their organs, or to be included [in] a research program,” she tells ScienceInsider.