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By Nancy Morgan
© 2000 Human Events


“They told me my kidney came from an executed prisoner because you get them fresh that way. From the taking out of the kidney, it is only a few hours to get it transplanted in me.”

So said one of six patients recovering from a transplant operation at Huaxi University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu, China, whose comments were recorded secretly 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, on that same day, the Chinese government carried out a mass execution only 10 miles away.

The People’s Republic of China has long used mass executions for political and criminal justice purposes, but it now 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.”

Executed prisoners
The Chinese apply the death penalty to a much broader set of crimes than in Western nations.

“In China,” Kumar testified, “there are about 68 offenses 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 transplants 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 Wu smuggled out of the country 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 prisoner’s family would be held under house arrest while the executions were taking place. Only by agreeing to pay the authorities 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 office in Hong Kong. In a room complete with sales brochures, a saleswoman assured Wu that “all organs [for sale] are from brain-dead people and have been donated voluntarily.”

‘Easily arranged’
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 kidney fast and at the appropriate time. Basically, as soon as we know the donor is brain dead, we can get at the kidney with the 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 is $30,000, and several hospitals are now doing a more complicated (and far more lucrative) liver transplant procedure.

On Jan. 9, 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, “[T]he 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 patient’s 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 mainland law for prisoners to give consent to donate organs.”

What happened to the 1984 “consent” regulations smuggled out by Wu? 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 U.S. 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 “[t]here have been credible reports in the past that patients from abroad had undergone organ transplant operations on the mainland, using organs removed from executed prisoners.”

But Amnesty International’s Kumar told Congress in 1998, “We are not aware of any concrete steps taken by the Clinton administration to raise the issue with Chinese authorities.”


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