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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Human Rights Watch calls on China to disclose information about organ harvesting

This is a good report with one serious omission: the mass murder for organ of the Falun Gong is not mentioned.

Washington Post, 11/20/2006: BEIJING -- A human rights group urged China on Sunday to disclose details surrounding the removal of body organs from executed prisoners for transplants, after health officials recently acknowledged the practice.

Little information about China's transplant business is publicly available, and critics contend it is profit-driven with little regard for medical ethics. China has long defended the practice as legal.

"This is one of the most critical issues in terms of human rights today in China because it raises a number of areas of concern - China's criminal justice system, the use of the death penalty, medical ethics and irregularities in the organ trade," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, in a telephone interview.

"China has repeatedly discouraged any attempt to discuss the issue," Bequelin said. "We call on China to disclose the number of people executed every year and the number of organ transplants that take place."

Health officials last week said China routinely removes body organs from executed prisoners for transplants, but said it was only done with the prior consent of the prisoners or their families, according to a state media report.

"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said at a conference on human organ transplants last week, according to a China Daily report.

"The relevant authorities strongly require the informed consent from the prisoners or their families for the donation of organs," Huang was quoted as saying in the Nov. 16 report.

It was not the first time that China has acknowledged harvesting organs from executed prisoners. Huang had said at a liver transplant conference in July 2005 that the majority of organs used for transplant in China were from executed prisoners.

Voluntary donations remain far below demand, partly because of cultural biases against organ removal before burial.

Chinese transplantation specialists have estimated that as much as 99 percent of transplanted organs come from executed prisoners, according to a report by Amnesty International in September.

Chinese officials have also acknowledged that poor government supervision in the industry has led to a number of "improper" organ transplants.

Mao Qun'an, a health ministry spokesman, said in the China Daily report that the organs sometimes went not to those most in need, but to foreigners who could pay more for a kidney or liver.

Bequelin said that higher fees charged to foreigners were making it a lucrative business that Chinese authorities were often unwilling to police.

"This is driving so much profit and so much money that they are unwilling to intervene," Bequelin said.

In February, Japan said it was examining cases involving at least eight Japanese patients who received organ transplants in China and later fell seriously ill or died from infections and other problems after returning home.

"It is highly dangerous... if there is a medical impropriety or accident there is absolutely no recourse for the patient," Bequelin said.

China has been trying to clean up the laxly regulated transplant industry, with a law explicitly banning sales of human organs that came into effect July.

The law also requires that donors give written permission for their organs to be transplanted and restricts transplant surgery to top-ranked institutions that must verify the organs are from legal sources and that surgery is safe and justified.

Huang, the vice minister, said the country's supply of organs could not meet its demand for donations, estimating that 10,000 operations were carried out a year even though 1.5 million people needed transplants.

China is believed to carry out more court-ordered executions than all other nations who have the death penalty combined, for crimes ranging from murder to tax evasion. Amnesty International says China executed at least 1,770 people in 2005 _ about 80 percent of the world's total. China has never revealed the number of executions it carries out.

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