China May Stop Harvesting Organs From Executed Prisoners

By Allison Bond | August 28, 2009 2:00 pm

anatomyIn an attempt to steer organ donation away from organs purchased on the black market or harvested from executed prisoners, China has announced a system to coordinate voluntary organ donation. The details of the new system are still under development, according to Chinese officials.

Although China is far from the only country facing a shortage of donor organs, the number of people who plan to donate is astoundingly low–since 2003, only 130 people have pledged to give up their organs after they pass away. Chinese officials estimate that 1.5 million Chinese need transplants annually but only 10,000 are performed due to donor shortages [The Wall Street Journal]. Of the transplants performed, officials estimate that at least 65 percent use organs from executed prisoners.

In today’s rarely discussed Chinese organ donation system, before prisoners are put to death, special preparations are made to ensure their organs will be viable for donation, such as the injection of a drug to prevent blood clots. China does not publicly report execution figures, but Amnesty International estimates that 1,718 prisoners were put to death in 2008, the highest number of any nation. The government said last month that it planned to cut the number of executions to “an extremely small number” by changing criminal laws and issuing more suspended death sentences [The New York Times]. Although prisoners sign a consent form donating their organs before execution, activists say they doubt that the prisoners are capable of making voluntary and informed consent at that time. Indeed, China’s vice minister of health, Huang Jiefu, now says that inmates “are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants” [The New York Times].

Increasing the number of voluntary donors hopefully will also decrease demand for organs on the black market because legal organs will, in theory, become more readily available. Still, it seems somewhat unlikely that the supply of donated organs could ever meet China’s demand for them—150 million transplants needed per year versus 130 donors over 6 years—and many remain skeptical that the new system will really reshape organ donation in China. “Certainly, it is a step in the right direction to set up an national organ donation system, but there are powerful vested interests that will constrain reform” [Los Angeles Times], said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Related Content:
80beats: U.K. Group Rebuffs Plan to Make Every Briton an Organ Donor by Default
80beats: Harvesting Infant Hearts for Transplants Raises Ethical Questions
DISCOVER: How Do Transplant Patients Wind Up With Killer Organs
DISCOVER: A Gender Gap for Organ Donors

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • darth dakyne

    I remember hearing in a alex jones documentary about how china would even execute the prisoners sooner if someone important needed their organs right away, and the term “powerful vested intrests” was DEFINATELY used in conjunction with that story, needless to say it fell under a realm of abuse that is far more over reaching than just china, africa has similar problems as well, and alot of those ties come right here to northamerica its really sad that people can do such harsh things to eachother
    i cant wait till we find out we are not alone in the universe because it would seem thats the only way humanity can come together and forget the petty differences we have toward eachother

  • Joe

    Hmmm…*maybe* the reason why they execute the most people is because they HAVE the most people in the world…about a fifth of the world, actually…

  • darth dakyne

    thats a good point, they should have used percentages to express the high level of executions, I actually didn’t think of that when I thought of how many were executed, but now all I can wonder is how come only 130 donors in 6 years????

  • Zachary

    Devil’s advocate here, if some good can come out of tragedy, do we turn our backs on it?

  • Zachary C.

    Publicly yes, though obviously no.

  • Bob

    Read from if you want to know what is really going on. Official B.S. from the Chinese communist party’s mouthpieces put into western media is either a delibrate attempt to cover up the shocking reality of the genocide or a unintentional ignorant recycling of hog-wash from CCP official media mouth pieces, such as Xin-hua news agency. TODAY’S HOLOCAUST NEEDS AWARENESS AND NEEDS TO END ASAP!.. read from the link, and educate others.


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