Organ Transplants in China:Developments and Controversies

Published 10 October 2009

II. Human Rights


China’s Religious Communities

In August 2009, the Red Cross Society and the Ministry of
Health (MOH) announced the launch of China’s first organized registration
system for organ donations, beginning with a pilot program
in 10 provinces.104 According to Vice Minister of Health
Huang Jiefu, quoted in Xinhua’s announcement of the launch, the
new system is ‘‘needed to ensure transplant quality, eliminate
organ trading and ‘transplant tourism,’ and register more donors
and protect their rights.’’ 105 As the Commission reported in 2006,
Huang acknowledged in July 2005 that the majority of organs used
in transplants in China originate from executed prisoners.106
In July 2006, following the first allegations of organ harvesting,
the government passed a law, which went into effect in May 2007,
forbidding the trade of organs without the consent of the donor.107
The government also banned all organ transplant operations for
foreigners in China—previously a large source of revenue for the
growing trade—but reports as recent as February 2009 confirm
that the practice of ‘‘organ transplant tourism’’ continues.108
In November
2008, the Beijing-based magazine Caijing reported that
Huang Jiefu disclosed at a recent meeting that the MOH believes
that ‘‘a rather large proportion of organ transplants from live bodies
are supplied by sources that are not related by family or friendship
ties.’’ 109 The MOH also found ‘‘illegal companies’’
in operation
that facilitate the organ trade by falsifying documentation intended
to certify a kin relationship between a donor and a recipient.110
In the past year, allegations of organ harvesting from nonconsenting
Falun Gong prisoners have emerged again, further raising
concerns about possible abuses in China’s organ transplant industry.
In December 2008, the UN Committee against Torture
(UNCAT) indicated in its report on China that the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, had noted ‘‘an increase in
organ transplant operations coincides with the ‘beginning of the
persecution of [Falun Gong practitioners],’ ’’ and had urged
the Chinese
government to provide ‘‘a full explanation of the source of
organ transplants.’’ 111 In an August 2009 interview, Nowak noted
that ‘‘[i]t remains to be seen how it could be possible that organ
transplant surgeries in Chinese hospitals have risen massively
since 1999, while there are never that many voluntary donors
available.’’ 112 The UNCAT’s reference to a relationship between
the increase in organ transplant operations in China in the last
decade and the unexplained source of organ supply was first documented
in a 2006 investigative report (updated in 2007) produced
by a former senior Canadian government official and a prominent
human rights attorney.113 The 2006 report also provided transcripts
of telephone calls to detention facilities and transplant centers
in China, where officials there confirmed the availability of
189 organs from Falun Gong prisoners.114 In November 2008, an American
think tank researcher who was investigating allegations of
organ harvesting in China reported that 16 interviews he conducted
with Falun Gong practitioners who were formerly incarcerated
yielded details of ‘‘inexplicable’’ medical testing that
focused on organ examination.115 [See Section II—Freedom of Religion—
Falun Gong, for more information on the government’s campaign
against the spiritual movement.]


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