When a patient has an organ transplant in China, chances are it was harvested from an executed prisoner. In a recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet, China’s vice-minister of health, Huang Jiefu, writes that more than 90 per cent of transplanted organs in his home country are from prisoners.
The government has strongly defended this practice, but Huang says more regulation is needed to protect prisoners’ rights. In particular, he’s lobbying for hospitals to adopt “centralized standards” and a “transparent system” that properly documents donors and where the body parts have come from, as well as a system for equitably allocating those organs. A “legal framework is urgently needed,” he writes.
Until recently, Chinese transplant centres were openly advertising their services to Westerners in English on their websites, where they even listed the prices for various organs. A liver or a heart cost about $120,000, for example, while a kidney cost between $60,000 and $90,000.
But bowing to international pressure, in June 2007 the Chinese government introduced new legislation giving priority for transplants to its own citizens, followed by the citizens of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. The new law effectively cut off Western access to the organs.
However, some medical professionals say there are still problems. They allege that the speed with which donors and patients are matched seems to indicate that prisoners are being selected before they are killed. There are also accusations from the group Falun Gong that its members are killed or their executions accelerated for their organs. The Chinese government denies this practice, but it agrees that more reform is needed.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.