Organ Transplants in China

Notwithstanding the preposterous accusations made by Falungong groups in Canada and elsewhere that the Chinese government systematically harvests the organs of the cult’s followers, accusations that have even been disparaged by ardent anti-China hacks like deceased ‘laogai’ critic Harry Wu, the recent case of a Canadian patient receiving an organ in China after only a short three-day wait sheds light on the need for continued reforms to the current organ transplantation system in the country.

The case raised alarm bells at the Montreal-based Transplantation Society, a NGO that serves as an international forum for the worldwide advancement of organ transplantation.  The issues at hand are whether China is meeting its pledge to ban the harvesting of organs from executed inmates made in January 2015 and to what extent does corruption in the system come into play regarding so-called ‘black-market surgeries’ that still occur.  In any event, their numbers and the way organs are procured are a far cry from that alleged by international anti-China groups.

Speaking at the plenary session of the 26th international Congress of the Transplantation Society held in Hong Kong last August, Huang Jiefu, director of China’s Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee and a former vice-minister of Health, disclosed that doctors performed 10,057 organ transplants in China last year, about 8.38% of the world total.  According to official records, 2,766 organs were donated in 2015, more the total in the two previous years combined.  In the first seven months of 2016, 2,152 cases were recorded, up over 49% over the same period last year, with the final tally expected to meet or exceed a total of 4,000 by the end of the year.

The demand for useful organs is massive in China with round 300,000 patients a year waiting for them. The country performs the world’s highest number of organ transplants after only the US.  The government readily admits a major shortfall in the number of hospitals and doctors capable of performing transplants.  China’s need remains dire in spite of the fact that Chinese donation rates leads Japan and most other Asian countries and donations are the third highest globally albeit far behind the US and most Western nations.  In part, this stems from conservative Confucianist ethical beliefs about maintaining the integrity of the body after death along with ingrained cultural biases against organ donation.

In the Canadian case, which happened just prior to the Hong Kong convention, the Tranplantation Society immediately notified director Huang calling for a thorough investigation.  In a sign considered positive by the Society, Mr Huang’s officials revoked the licenses of the physician and the hospital involved as they launched a criminal investigation into the allegedly illegal transplant.  “Because China is a big country with 1.3 billion people and regional development is uneven, occasional legal violations are unavoidable”, director Huang admitted to reporters at the conference.

Since 2007, China has cracked down on 32 illegal intermediaries, arrested 158 suspects, investigated 17 medical institutions revoking the licenses of 44 medical staff and significantly, shut down 13 ‘black-market dens’, Mr Huang reported to the Society congress.  In spite of such successful criminal prosecutions, however, Mr Huang stressed there is a continuing need to forcefully crack down on organ trafficking while legislating more regulations to deal with how organs are procured.  A donor registry was piloted in 2010 and has been expanded into a nationwide system.  The government has also been encouraging donations with major newspapers publishing positive stories of families donating their loved ones’ organs.

Dr Michael Millis, a transplant specialist at the University of Chicago who has visited several dozen transplant centers in China said before, doctors at those centers used to routinely schedule surgeries but nowadays, they could have multiple surgeries in a single day and then go for a stretch without any.  To Dr Millis, that indicates they are operating on the up and down schedule of a system supplied through voluntary donations rather than depending on regular executions of death row inmates.  As for allegations of an extensive network of ‘black market dens’, Dr Millis responded, “there is no evidence it is an extensive black market parallel system that would generate a large number of organs from executed prisoners.”

Other doctors stated the recorded usage of drugs given to transplant patients were in synch with China’s reported number of transplants.  Dr Francis Delmonico, a professor at the Harvard Medical School and a renowned transplant surgeon remarked, “it is not a matter for us to prove to you that it’s zero…it’s a matter for the government to fulfill what is the law, just as it is in other countries of the world that we go to.”  Dr Jose Nunez, an organ transplant advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) held high praise for China’s progress.  “You are taking the country to a leading position within the transplantation world”, he congratulated Chinese participants at the conference.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.