In August, many international transplantation physicians, organ procurement specialists, representatives from the World Health Organization and the Vatican, distinguished international faculty and experts from Spain, Europe and America condoned and applauded both the Annual China Transplant Physician Society Meeting and the Donation and Transplantation Institute’s Educational Program in Kunming, China. The presence of and recognition by these myriad organizations and professionals have been touted in the Chinese media as evidence that China’s organ transplant practices have been widely acknowledged throughout the world as having met internationally accepted ethical standards.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The well-intentioned professionals who gathered in Kunming have been woefully misled. The supposed reforms China professes to have made are nothing more than diversionary tactics. Such premature praise from international organizations enables the Chinese transplant community to conduct business as usual while attempting to cover up and erase decades of grossly unethical and illegal transplant practices. Failing to confirm that real reforms have indeed occurred allows the killing of innocents for organs to continue unabated and blocks the victims and their families from seeking justice.
China’s alleged reforms are nothing but empty words
Alleged reforms and claims:
* Organs from executed prisoners are no longer being used
As spokesperson for China’s organ transplant system, Huang Jiefu announced that China would discontinue the use of organs from executed prisoners on January 1, 2015. That announcement has no legal foundation and cannot be found in any official government policy statement or law. The State Council’s Human Organ Transplant Ordinance of March 2007 did not abolish the Provisional Regulations of 1984, which allows the sourcing of organs from executed prisoners without consent. The 1984 regulations remain in effect today. Additionally, in 2015, Huang was quoted in several newspaper interviews saying that prisoners would henceforth be treated as citizens with the “right” to donate organs. Ostensibly, this means that organs sourced from prisoners will be listed as voluntarily public donations.
* All organs come from voluntary donations
A long held belief among the Chinese people is that their bodies should remain intact after death. Centuries of cultural aversion to organ donation do not disappear in a few years. There was no organ donation system in China before 2010, and the national organ donation system did not begin until 2013. By the end of 2015, China’s trial organ donation and allocation system still had not produced a meaningful number of donations. Huang Jiefu indicated in an interview with Beijing Youth Daily in November 2015 that the organ donation system in China does not function in practice because the two most important organ donation organizations, the Red Cross and the National Planning Commission, do not actually coordinate with each other. In 2015, the few donation centers that answered phone calls made by investigators from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong indicated that few people had actually registered to donate and the number of successful donations was extremely low. China’s officially published donor numbers showing sudden spikes in two consecutive yearsshould provoke serious mistrust of official statistics.
A wide variety of sources indicate that death row executions in China have decreased over the last two decades, while during the same period, the number of organ transplants has grown exponentially. In 2013, the Director of Hepatobiliary Surgery at Peking University People’s Hospital said, “Our hospital conducted 4,000 liver and kidney transplant operations within a particular year, and all of the organs are from death-row prisoners.” Considering that many death row prisoners have illnesses that render them unsuitable candidates for organ donation, how likely is it that there were sufficient numbers of executions to supply a single transplant hospital with organs for 4,000 transplants?
Inefficiency in distribution and transportation of organs procured for transplant has been a significant problem in China, with transport delays resulting in significant organ loss. Huang Jiefu admitted in May 2016 that twenty percent of all transported organs are wasted in route.
Given such low voluntary donation rates, decreasing death row execution rates and inefficient organ transport, how could China have enough donors and viable organs for the 13,000 transplantation surgeries reportedly performed in 2016?
* Between 10,000 and 13,000 transplants are performed annually in China
Transplantation is a lucrative business in China. Transplant surgeries, antirejection drugs and peri-operative care comprise major income sources for many hospitals. Consequently, hospitals have underreported transplant numbers to avoid taxation on substantial profits. Such widespread practices prompted the Chinese Ministry of Health to issue regulations in 2009 and 2010 that enact harsh penalties for hospitals that underreport transplant numbers. This calls into question the accuracy of any and all officially reported government transplant numbers.
In 2006, the newly completed Tianjin First Central Hospital’s Oriental Transplant Center had 700 beds dedicated to transplantation surgery. The center’s bed utilization rates reached 90% in 2009 and 131% in 2013 with the ability to simultaneously conduct nine liver and eight kidney transplants. Based on bed counts, 100% utilization rates and 3 to 4 week hospital stays for liver transplants, the center could perform between 6,000 to 8,000 transplants each year.
Transplant surgeon Shen Zhongyang claimed to have performed nearly 10,000 liver transplants by 2014 and that, under his guidance, each of his former students had independently completed nearly 1,000 liver transplant surgeries. Meanwhile, the hospital publicly claimed its staff performed just 330 liver transplants in 2010 and reported only seven liver transplants to the official government liver transplant registry.
Persecution of Falun Gong continues unabated
The exponential rise of organ transplant surgery in China began shortly after the onset of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Falun Gong in 1999. It has been reported that not only did the Chinese Ministry of Public Security order the eradication of Falun Gong but added that “no law regulates the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners,” and “deaths of Falun Gong practitioners from beating are nothing and shall be counted as suicide; the bodies shall be directly cremated without investigating the person’s identification.”
In detention centers, it is prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners, who have been subjected to blood testing and medical examinations that target only retail organs, while other prisoners are not. Police in several areas in China have even entered Falun Gong practitioners’ homes, forcibly taking blood samples and cheek swabs.
A 2009 Tianjin Medical Journal study analyzed 1,600 liver procurement surgeries performed between 2004 and 2008 at the Tianjin Organ Transplant Center. Livers were primarily obtained from young, healthy males with an average age of 34.5 years. The center’s director, Shen Zhongyang, created a surgical procedure for extracting livers from “no-heartbeat cadavers” with warm ischemia time of five minutes or less. The livers described in this study could only have come from living people, turned into “no-heartbeat cadavers” during the process of organ extraction. It is impossible to achieve a warm ischemia time of five minutes or less when sourcing organs from cadavers. Transplant surgeons throughout China have adopted Zhongyang’s procedure.
In a recent interview, DAFOH’s Executive Director Dr. Torsten Trey said, “If reforms are praised while the hidden forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and prisoners of conscience continues, then we find this devastating situation where this applause resounds while innocent people are slaughtered for their organs.”