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Friday, January 07, 2011

How Corrupt Governments Make a Killing on Human Organs

Outside of China and Kosovo, where the definition of "voluntary donation" is highly questionable, other countries have experimented with organ sales. But China's program is morally repugnant, while those of Iran and India are subject to serious corruption.

In China, Turning Political Prisoners into Profit

Daily Finance: Kosovo isn't the only country with an extensive, state-sponsored transplantation program. In China, organs are routinely harvested from condemned political prisoners and are often sold to foreigners for prices far below the transplantation costs in other countries. While China's program doesn't have Kosovo's genocidal component, it is still used as a revenue generator and a means of disposing of enemies of the state.

China has been performing organ transplants since the 1960s, but the roots of its organ trade trace back to the early 1980s. As part of its move away from socialism, the country began slashing health care expenditures. In 1980, China covered 36% of health care costs for the country. By 2005, that number had dropped to 17%. Over the same period, the percentage of health care costs covered out-of-pocket by patients almost tripled, from 20% to 59%.

To make up the difference, hospitals began searching for high-profit operations that could shore up their bottom lines. The military, which is permitted to engage in commerce, also was searching for ways to improve its finances. What resulted was a military/medical collaboration: Many of China's leading transplantation centers were either owned or extensively staffed by the military.

A Prime Source of Healthy Organs

Having developed an extensive transplantation infrastructure, China needed a steady source of organs. It is illegal to transplant organs without a donor's consent in China, but a 1984 law allowed the state to harvest organs from condemned prisoners who agreed to the operation. In the following decades, China developed an extensive prisoner organ harvest industry, offering low-price transplants to both domestic and international patients. In the face of international condemnation, it has developed a more traditional postmortem organ donation program, but the bulk of China's transplanted organs still come from condemned prisoners.

While Chinese authorities emphasize that prisoner organ donation is voluntary, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Dr. Wang Guoqi, a Chinese physician who was closely involved with the organ trade, alleged that it was "rife with corruption" and that prisoners often didn't give consent for harvesting. Moreover, he also described brutal transplant conditions, including one incident in which he and several fellow doctors harvested organs from a prisoner who was still alive.

There have also been allegations that China's organ harvesting system is being used as a weapon in its war against Falun Gong, a political and religious group that opposes the Communist government. Falun Gong exhorts its members to refrain from smoking, drinking, premarital sex, and drug use, policies that make them prime candidates to be organ donors.

Following mass arrests, many members of Falun Gong refused to identify themselves to captors, fearing that their families would face retribution. Many of these prisoners subsequently "disappeared." According to a report by David Matas, a human rights lawyer, and David Kilgour, a former member of the Canadian parliament, some transplant coordinators have openly admitted that their organs come from Falun Gong prisoners.

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