State-organized Criminal Forced Organ Harvesting

DAFOH’s executive director, Dr. Torsten Trey and internationally renowned human rights attorney, David Matas, Esq. explore the devolution of ethics surrounding China’s organ transplantation medicine in the Journal of Trafficking and Human Exploitation.[1]

The relatively young discipline of transplant medicine has allowed the exploration of uncharted waters and triggered international research while giving patients a second chance at life. Despite voluntary organ donation programs, long waiting times for organs by patients in need have generated a commercial transplant tourism market where organs can be bought and sold.

Trafficking in human beings for organ removal, trafficking in human organs and transplant tourism have become highly profitable businesses for transnationally operating criminal groups. It is estimated that organ trafficking amounts to 10% of all transplants performed annually around the globe, with an estimated annual revenue of 840 million to 1.7 billion US dollars.

Despite accounting for 10% of all transplants performed, these abominable crimes that violate fundamental human rights and dignity have not received nearly enough attention from the international medical, ethical and legal professions.

The most heinous development in this downward ethical spiral is what the authors call “state-sanctioned criminal forced organ harvesting” where it is not organized criminal groups but a sovereign state conducting this profitable business. When a national state government is involved, there is little hope that the crimes can be corrected from within.

The involvement of the Chinese government in transplant abuse is supported by various pieces of evidence showing that it is primarily Falun Gong practitioners who constitute the living organ donor bank fueling China’s transplant industry. How could it be possible that this state-sanctioned organ trafficking escapes international attention?

  • Falun Gong practitioners have been illegally detained in huge numbers since 1999.
  • There are no publicly available records of extra-judicially held prisoners of conscience.
  • Transplant numbers in China increased by about 300% in the early 2000s and have continued to rise.
  • Executed death row prisoner organs could not account for the number of transplant performed over the last two decades.
  • Organs are available on demand at short notice to customers from around the world for large sums of money.
  • Chinese hospitals have advertised 2-4 week wait times for matching organs.
  • Vital organ transplants, such as hearts and livers, have been scheduled ahead of time, on specific dates.
  • Hospitals boast of short warm ischemic times for organs used in transplant.
  • Transparency of organ procurement procedures has always been lacking in China, despite new reforms.
  • There has been a huge expansion of the Chinese transplantation infrastructure with increases in the number of hospitals performing transplants, dedicated transplant beds, transplant surgeons and supporting medical personnel, government supported transplant medicine research with dramatic increases in hospital revenues from transplant surgeries.
  • China’s national voluntary organ donation rate has always been and continues to be very low, primarily for cultural reasons.

Falun Gong is a peaceful, spiritual discipline in the Buddhist tradition that emphasizes adherence to the universal principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Practitioners perform qigong-like exercises that improve physical health while abstaining from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. Since the Communist government’s repression of Falun Gong began in 1999, these people have been ostracized, dehumanized, persecuted, deprived of the most basic rights and targeted for forced organ harvesting.

Unfortunately, many leading voices in the transplantation field have failed to carefully examine the strong evidence of China’s unethical transplant practices. Despite China’s blatant disregard for internationally accepted ethical standards, the World Health Organization and international transplant organizations have praised China for its self-reported, unverified reforms. Despite the development of an organ donation program in China, the cessation of organ harvesting from executed prisoners has not been independently confirmed, while the forced organ harvesting from living prisoners of conscience has never been addressed at all. Additionally, China has categorically opposed independent inspections that could either prove or disprove investigators’ evidence.

Trey and Matas ask, “How should the international community react when a country’s government participates in an unlawful, criminal organ trafficking practice?” There is but one course of action for the world to take. The international community must address this human rights crisis, expose past and ongoing crimes, and demonstrate concern for the victims by pressuring China to stop live forced organ harvesting of all prisoners of conscience.

[1] Trey, T and Matas, D. 2017 State-organized Criminal Forced Organ Harvesting Journal of Trafficking and Human Exploitation; Vol. 1, No. 2, 175-186.