China’s Business of Organ Harvesting


It has been estimated that there are between 60 000 to 100 000 organ transplants reportedly being performed in China each year. Ethan Gutmann, an award winning analyst, author and notable expert on the subject, has estimated that between 2000 and 2016 up to 1.5 million transplants were performed in China. Even more concerning, is that most of the organs for these transplants have not been attained through voluntary donations, as alleged by the Chinese Government, but through organ harvesting. Despite international pressures, the practice of harvesting organs from non-consenting prisoners has continued unabated in China.

Following international outcry after the exposure of evidence of the heinous crimes taking place, in 2013, the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing concern over these reported practices and insisted that the Chinese government put an immediate stop to the practice. The resolution called for China to release all prisoners of conscience and made special mention of the oppression of Falun Gong practitioners. Such practices are in direct violation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 18 December 2012, as well as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – A convention which was ratified by China on 4 October 1988.

In 2014, the Chinese government announced to the internationally community that they would stop the practice and vowed to only use freely donated organs. However, despite this commitment, Dr. Huang Jiefu, the director of the China Organ Donation Committee and former Vice-minister of health in China, repeatedly asserted that prisoners had a right to ‘voluntarily donate’ organs, as do all prisoners on death row, and flatly denied that the there was any persecution of prisoners who were Falun Gong practitioners taking place.

For decades now, stories have emerged of the multitude of ways in which the Chinese government is working to eradicate groups that do not conform to the philosophy of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Targeted persecutions affect, amongst others, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Buddists, Christians and Falun Gong practitioners.

David Kilgour, former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, Ethan Gutmann, award winning analyst and human rights investigator, and David Matas, Canadian Human Rights Lawyer, released a report in 2016 called “Bloody Harvest/ The Slaughter”. This report exposed, in great detail, the numerous anomalies that are still present in the current organ ‘donation’ and transplant system in China. The report presented over 600 pages of analysis and evidence that strongly suggested that practitioners of Falun Gong and the Uyghur people were being specifically targeted for forced registration in an unconstitutional organ database.

The relevance of such databases can now be identified. China has been developing an impressive medical tourism industry. The economics of offering fresh, reliable organs to the wealthy of the world is a business opportunity China is willing to exploit at the expense of its minority communities. It is clear why China is adverse to stopping this doubly beneficial system. On one hand, it is bolstering the Chinese economy and building relationships with the powerful individuals who take advantage of these services, while quietly eradicating whole groups of people who don’t fit into the CPC’s vision for the future.

Korean reporter, Mr. Kim Hyeoncheol, went undercover in Tianjin Number One Central Hospital, in the northeast of China. The hospital had a reputation for falsifying transplant data. He found while patients (or rather, visiting customers) did receive provisional, and generally quite accurate timelines for when they would receive their new organ, usually two to four weeks, they were not informed of the sources of their organs. In comparison, in other countries, such as Canada, the UK and Australia, the wait time for an organ can be anywhere between three and six months, or longer. For such a reliable source of a new liver, customers at the Tianjin Number One Central Hospital pay around 170 000 USD, according to a nurse that spoke with Mr. Kim. It is suspected that in 2013, the hospital had a liver transplant turnover of anywhere between 6 000 to over 10 000 transplants per year. These numbers represent an unbelievable turnover rate, as this hospital, and others like it is China, report a transplant capacity that is only a fraction of what investigators like Mr. Kim infer are taking place. Furthermore, with the rapid expansion of the Chinese medical system, have come reports of overburdened and poorly regulated medical systems.

Matthew Robertson, Jacob Levee and Raymond Hill, researchers at Tel Aviv University who have been studying China’s volunteer donor transplant data, have also found troubling inconsistencies in the China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS). Remember that Dr. Huang Jiefu had announced that all non-voluntary harvesting of prisoners organs would stop by January 1st, 2015. However, by the end of that year, on December 31st, the COTRS recorded that around 25 000 new donors registered to the system that day. Within the last 7 days of 2015, around 88 000 individuals are recorded as newly, and voluntarily, registering to donate their organs. Robertson, Levee and Hill imply that these exceptional results point to only one thing, manipulation. Which, when held in the same light as Dr. Huang’s defence of prisoners’ rights to donate organs, does seem quite plausible.

The troubling incongruities found in reports on this system do not stop there. In a period of 10 days, where 30 voluntary donors died, a total of 640 organs were recorded harvested. The US State Department for Health and Human services reports that there are 8 organs that can be donated by a deceased person – the generally accepted maximum average number of organs taken from one donor is around 2.7. Furthermore, anyone who is registered to the Chinese organ donor list stands a much higher chance of actually donating an organ, 140 % more likely, than the probability of a UK organ donor actually donating.

Within Europe the discussion has continued. With so many accountability issues there is a concern over what protections are available to the customers themselves, many arriving from foreign countries, totally ignorant of the truth surrounding their potential organ transplant.

In February 2019, in response to a written question raised by UK Member of the EU Parliament, Jonathan Arnott, from the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group, the European Commission Vice-President Frederica Mogherini reaffirmed that the European Union’s (EU) commitment to addressing the concerning human rights situation in China, but did not present any concrete measures that the EU would be willing to make at this time.

It is the responsibility of the European Union to continue to defend basic human rights around the world. If China is not interested in cooperating with the EU in addressing this issue, then the EU needs to take a harder stance. There are countless stories of people suddenly dying or mysteriously vanishing after being detained by the Chinese authorities. China is the only OECD country that has been found to kill humans for their organ. While Europe talks about defending human rights, can we not already assume that the human body and its organs form the foundation of that principle, and Europe must condemn China for its practices of organ harvesting and of the persecution of minorities.

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