Wednesday, 6 December 2006

China admits organs from prisoners

A senior Chinese health official has admitted that most transplant organs in China - the world's second-largest transplant system, are taken from executed prisoners.

Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu told a conference on organ transplantation in Guangzhou on 14 November: "There are about 1.5 million people in China who need transplants each year, but only around 10,000 operations can be carried out."

"Almost all organ transplants can be performed in China. However, the current big shortfall of organ donations can't meet the demand," he said.

"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Huang said.

But Vice-Minister Huang denied the organs were taken without the consent of the prisoner or their family.

"The relevant government authorities strongly require the informed consent from the prisoners or their families for the donation of organs," he said.

Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qun'an said the regulations required the written consent of a prisoner or their relatives in order to donate their organs.

However he admitted that the regulations had not been properly enforced because of poor government supervision.

Rich people, including foreign patients, could jump waiting lists by buying transplant organs.

Official turnaround
The latest admission is a sharp reversal of the Chinese Government's policy of denying that many organs came from executed prisoners.

As recently as 13 September, The Shanghai Daily reported that the "Ministry of Health said most organs in China had been voluntarily donated by citizens. A small number came from death-row inmates who had volunteered."

Large transplant system
Xinhua's report on the conference said according to the Ministry of Health, 2,500 cornea transplants are carried out every year in China, with a further 2 million patients awaiting corneas for transplant.

It said Ministry of Health statistics recorded 34,726 organ transplants in China between 2000 and 2004.

With 10,000 transplants every year, China ranks second in the world for transplants after the United States.

Lucrative trade in death
Amnesty International reported in May that "extracting organs from executed prisoners has been a widespread and highly profitable practice in China since the de facto privatization of health care several years ago".

The human rights organisation said it was estimated that around 99% of transplanted organs in China may come from executed prisoners.

Amnesty International's death penalty update said: "International medical standards state that transplants may only take place voluntarily and with the free and informed consent of the donor; it is unlikely that those faced with the trauma of imminent execution are in a position to provide such consent.

"The secrecy surrounding the application of the death penalty in China also makes it difficult to verify whether such consent was given."

Related stories:
Stop transplant tourism: surgeon -- 28 November, 2006
China restricts organs from executions -- 29 March, 2006

China, death penalty, executed prisoners, human rights, law reform, organ transplant

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