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The Sale of Organs From Executed Prisoners

Human Organs: Another Chinese Export
By Nancy Morgan
November 21, 2006

Flashback: This article was first published in Human Events, July 2000. Nothing has changed since then.

    "They told me my kidney came from an executed prisoner because you get them fresh that way. From the taking of the kidney, it is only a few hours to get it transplanted in me."
    So said one of six prisoners recovering from a transplant operation at Huaxi University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu, China, whose comments were secretly recorded on videotape in 1994 by Chinese dissident and former political prisoner Harry Wu.
    Five other patients in the room had also received a "fresh" kidney that day. It is unlikely that it was a mere coincidence that, one the same day, the Chinese government carried out a mass execution only 10 miles away.
    The People's Republic of China (PRC) has long used mass executions for political and criminal justice purposes, but now it appears that there is another purpose to mass executions: to bring in revenue for the Chinese government through the harvesting and sale of the organs from executed "criminals."
    In Zhengzhou City, a hospital worker who had many times extracted organs at execution sites, told Wu, "A shot in his head, blow away his brain, and the guy is brain dead. He has no more thinking, ceases to be a human being, just a thing, and we use the waste."
    T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA testified on the organ harvesting at a 1998 hearing before the House Government reform and Oversight Committee. "Amnesty International reported on this practice in 1993 and called at that time for the Chinese government to ban the use of organs from executed prisoners without their free and informed consent," said Kumar. "However the use of organs from this source continues in China, reportedly on a widespread scale."


    This is particularly troubling because, in China, the death penalty is applied to a much broader set of crimes than in Western nations. "In China," Kumar testified, "there are about 68 offences punishable by death, including reselling value-added tax receipts, theft, burglary, hooliganism, seriously disrupting public order, pimping, trafficking of women, taking of bribes, corruption, forgery and tax evasion."
    Ninety percent of the organs used for transplant in China, Kumar said, come "from executed prisoners."
    The use of prisoners' organs for transplant raises the obvious issue of donor consent. If ordinary, law-abiding Chinese are not free to decide their own destiny when they are alive, is it credible that Chinese prisoners are free to determine the destiny of their organs when they are executed?
    On paper, the Chinese have covered themselves on this issue. A 1984 Chinese government document smuggled out of the country by Wu outlined the "Official Administrative Regulations" for collecting organs from executed prisoners. One regulation stipulates that organ harvesting can be done only "with the consent of the prisoner or his family, or in cases where the body is uncollected."
    Wu points out, however, that poor prisoners in China are often executed far from their home territories, where it is impossible for their families to collect their bodies.
    Yet, Gao Pei Qi, the onetime deputy chief of the Public Security Bureau in Shenzhen, China, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1995, "In the 10 years that I worked for the Public Security Bureau, I never saw or heard anything to suggest that death row prisoners were asked for consent before donating organs. Nor was the family asked.  In fact, more often than not, the prisoners family would be held under house arrest while the executions were taking place. Only by agreeing to pay the autorities for the urn would they be able to collect the ashes."
    In 1994, posing as a businessman seeking a kidney for a relative, Wu took a hidden video camera to an organ-marketing firm in Hong Kong. In a room complete ith sales brochures, a saleswoman assured Wu that "all organs [for sale] are from brain dead people and have been donated voluntarily."
    At First University hospital in Chengdu, Wu videotaped a Chinese doctor making a sales pitch to someone he thought was a prospective organ buyer. "The quality of our kidneys is better than in America," said the doctor, "because we can remove the kidneys fast and at the appropriate time. Basically, as soon as we know the donor is brain dead, we can ge at the kidney with a minimum of fuss and we can guarantee several kidneys in one month. The distance between where we remove the kidney and the transplant is short. we can do it in, oh, less than 10 hours. In America, it takes more than 20 hours."
    According to Wu, there are 90 hospitals in China capable of performing kidney and cornea transplants. The going price for kidneys [in the 1990s] was $30,000 with indications that the price has increased dramatically in recent years. "Several hospitals are now doing more complicated (and far more lucrative) liver transplant procedures."
    On January 9, 2000, the South China Morning Post reported, "Organs from executed prisoners are being offered for up to $300,000 each to Hong Kong liver transplant patients who travel to a mainland hospital."
    A reporter from the paper, inquiring about the possibility of a liver transplant for a friend, was told by a doctor at Sun Yat Sen University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu, "The organs are of good quality as they come from young prisoners."
    The doctor went on to say, "I cannot make it too clear....if you miss this chance [before Lunar New Year], you may have to wait until Labor Day. Some prisoners have been sentenced earlier. We will have some organs this month. of course we have to match the patients blood type, but no need to worry, there will be lots."
    At a hospital in Guangzhou, a doctor told a Morning Post reporter, "A liver transplant can be easily arranged, and consent is not an issue. There is no provision in mainand law for prisoners to give consent to donate organs."
    What happened to the 1984 "consent" regulations smuggled out by Wu? Apparently there have never been any provisions made for their enforcement.
    In October, 1997, ABC's "Prime Time Live" aired a segment, titled "Blood Money," that utilized videotape of two Chinese nationals in New York attempting to sell human organs to Wu. The Chinese nationals were arrested for allegedly violating a U.S. law that prohibits organ selling, but prosecutors eventually dropped the charges.
    The overall response to Chinese organ harvesting has been tepid. The 1999 State Department "Country Report on Human Rights Practices in China" does acknowledge that "credible reports have alleged that organs from some executed prisoners were removed, sold and transplanted" and that "there have been credible reports in the past that patients from abroad had undergone transplant operations on the mainland, using organs removed from executed prisoners."
    In June of 2000, Harry Wu and Nancy Morgan compiled video footage obtained secretly by Wu during a series of four clandestine trips to China. The resulting documentary, entitled "Communist Charity", proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that China was indeed engaging in mass executions, with the organs being harvested on site in unmarked white vans before being driven to a nearby hospital where up to ten harvested organs were then transplanted into waiting patients. A Chinese doctor, currently residing in Germany, was  interviewed actually confessing to harvesting the kidney of a patient the night before the execution.
    This documentary was sent to all members of Congress, to no avail. At that time the administrations' main priority regarding China was to get the PRC's Permanent Normal Trade Relations status approved by the Republican Congress.
    According to a report this month in China Daily, after years of denial, China has finally acknowledged this open secret. Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu stated, "Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners."
    At a conference in Boston, Chinese transplant doctor, Dr. Zhonghue Chen, admitted that Chinese doctors had transplanted 8,102 kidneys, 3,741 livers and 80 hearts in 2005 alone.
    The elephant in the closet can no longer be ignored. Democrats claim to be champions of human rights. Now that they've taken over the levers of government it will be interesting to see if their compassion extends to acknowledging and addressing this massive violation of human rights and dignity.

Nancy Morgan is a columnist and news editor for conservative news site
She lives in South Carolina


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