Concerns Persist Over Organ Harvesting in China
Concerns are again being raised over China’s execution of prisoners in order to use their organs for transplant. In today’s economy, organs can fetch a high price; in 2014 the organs of a single human body, including the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas, and intestines, were valued at $689,9001. Including medication, a hospital stay, and other fees associated with surgery, an organ recipient may pay nearly $1.2 million1. Today, the price is likely even higher.
With such high value placed on organs and an aging population increasingly in need of transplants, China has struggled to find voluntary organ donors. For years, global health officials were wary of China’s high execution rate and its reputed connection to organ donation. According to Amnesty International, China’s rate of capital punishment is one of the highest in the world, with over 1,500 prisoners being executed in 2015. 2 With such high execution rates and limited information on who is executed and on what charge, it is widely accepted that China was killing two birds with one stone: execution of political prisoners serves to eliminate anti-communist ideology and provides a source of much-needed organs.
Along withthe prisoners being held on death row for heinous crimes, those up for execution include political prisoners and prisoners of conscience3. It is believed that these include members of the persecuted Falun Gong religious group and suspected anti-Communists 3. Upon entering prison, reports confirm 3 that prisoners are subjected to medical tests, and the results stored in a database. Once the need arises, the prisoners are executed and the necessary organs extracted, or in some cases, the extraction is done on live patients to ensure a fresh transplant.3
In 2005, after years of global suspicion, China publicly confessed that the organs of executed prisoners were being harvested for transplants, and in 2011, China’s transplant chief Dr. Huang Jiefu estimated that 65% of all transplanted organs in China came from executed prisoners. 4 This renewed global concern over possible human rights violations. Finally in 2015, after facing increasing international pressure, Chinese officials announced that organs would no longer be harvested from executed inmates.
With well over half of organ transplants coming from executed prisoners, nobody expected an easy transition from a corrupt system to a permanent, ethical means of organ transplantation. Donors are scarce in China, in part due to a very limited organ volunteer system and cultural belief that it is inappropriate to disfigure a deceased body. However, when a Canadian patient in need of a kidney made a trip to China this year and received an organ in three short days4, eyebrows were instantly raised. Clearly, China has a long road ahead if it ever hopes to shed its reputation for unethical organ harvesting.
1 Hanson, Steven. “2014 U.S. organ and tissue transplant cost estimates and discussion.” Milliman, 30 Dec. 2014, http://www.milliman.com/uploadedFiles/insight/Research/
Perry, Juliet. “Amnesty report: Executions at their highest level in 25 years.” CNN, 6 April, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/05/world/amnesty-2015-death-penalty-report/index.html
Robertson, Matthew. “China’s Former Security Chief Implicated In Organ Harvesting.” Epoch Times, 16 Mar. 2015, http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/ 1287014-chinas-state-sponsored-organ-crimes-find-scapegoat/
4 Merchant, Norman. “Does China Still Harvest Organs of Executed? Doctors Divided.” Stars and Stripes, 27 Aug. 2016, http://www.stripes.com/news/