China admits organs removed from prisoners for transplants
China has admitted that two-thirds of all organs used in transplants in the country are taken from executed prisoners.

The Telegraph | August 26, 2009
By Peter Foster in Beijing

Facing a growing demand for transplants, the Beijing government finally conceded that abuses had taken place after years of allegations that prisoners and even young conscripts in its army were targeted for their organs.

It announced a national plan to curb a rampant black market organ trade where a single kidney can sell for as much as £50,000.

Promising a major initiative to clean up China's murky organ donation business, the country's vice-minister for health, Huang Jiefu, said Death Row inmates were "definitely not a proper source for organ transplants".

Under Chinese law organs can only be taken from condemned prisoners if they give written consent, however the opaque nature of Chinese justice has drained confidence from the system which doctors admit is open to widespread abuse.

The Red Cross Society of China has now been charged with implementing a new scheme to encourage the public to offer their organs for donation, creating a database of potential donors and offering financial support to needy families of those who sign up.

"Transplants should not be a privilege for the rich," added Mr Huang, "This system is in the public interest and will benefit patients regardless of social status and wealth in terms of fairness in organ allocation and better procurement."

The dearth of organs for transplant in China is blamed on cultural taboos that make people reluctant to be buried without their bodies intact.

According to official statistics more than a million people in China need a transplant every year, but less than 10,000 receive organs.

The gap between supply and demand has lead to a thriving black market, with 'organ dealers' advertising openly on the internet, offering to match would-be clients with donors willing to sell their organs for profit.

In 2007 China banned donations from people were not relatives or 'emotionally connected' to the recipients, however the rules are routinely circumvented by dealers forging paper work, usually with the connivance of officials and doctors who also profit from the trade.

Although precise numbers are kept secret, China executes more prisoners than all other countries in the world put together, however a stricter appeals system introduced in 2007 has cut the number of available convict-donors, putting further pressure on the system.

"The huge shortage of organ donors and organs has created a significant black market for organs," said Chen Zhonghua, the Chinese Medical Association's deputy director for transplanting. "This in turn has ruined public faith and willingness to donate organs."

A Beijing doctor can expect to make 30,000 yuan (£2,700) for carrying out an "illegal" transplant, according to one dealer, Li Zhe, who was interviewed by state-run Global Times newspaper.

"If there are available matching organs for patients, trading can start immediately, I'll take care of all the procedures," he told the paper. "A single case costs as much as 200,000 yuan (£18,000) for a patient who needs a kidney transplant."

Mr Li, whose website was still available on Wednesday, declined to speak further when contacted by The Telegraph by telephone.

However other sites were still openly offering organs for sale. On one, [daifu means doctor in Chinese], a dealer claiming to be the head of the "Asian Association for Friends in Need of Kidneys" said he had found transplant kidneys for over 200 patients.

One anonymous responder, a 35-year-old man, left a message offering to sell his kidney for 200,000 to 300,000 yuan (£18,000-27,000), promising immediate availability if the money was transferred to his account one hour before surgery.

"I don't need your sympathy. I am willing to do that since it save your life, also mine spontaneously," he added.

The scale and openness of the trade, which has seen live donations rise from 15 per cent of transplants in 2006 to 40 per cent last year, makes it clear that the Chinese government will have to fight hard to stamp out a lucrative trade that enriches corrupt doctors, dealers and officials.

China's ministry of health, which licenses 164 medical institutions to carry out organ transplants nationwide, said it had already revoked licenses from 16 hospitals that had failed to comply with regulations on organ transplants.

In February the Ministry of Health also announced is it was investigating reports in Japan's Kyoto News that 17 Japanese had travelled to Guangzhou in southern China for illegal liver and kidney transplants costing more than £50,000 each.

In a statement the ministry, which banned foreigners from coming to China for 'transplant tourism' in 2007, said it would punish severely any doctors or hospitals found to have broken the rules.