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Forced organ harvesting in China: A profitable industry

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Written by Titania Nguyen
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The Chinese Communist Party’s history of brutality towards its own citizens is nothing short of staggering. Since taking power in 1949, China has killed more innocents than Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia combined. China’s organ transplantation industry has become a major concern, particularly since forced harvests of organs began in the late 1990s.

China started transplants without a donor system. Only a few notable exceptions, “donor organs” for transplants, came from people who were on death row. Since 2006, reports have surfaced of forced organ harvesting. Organs are removed from people without the “donor’s” consent or against their will. This practice may have started because the number of transplants in China has grown rapidly over the last 20 years. In 2014, people thought 60,000 to 100,000 transplants took place in China each year.

Most of these operations involved forced organ harvesting and human organ trafficking. These organs may have come from prisoners of conscience and detainees in Chinese detention camps. Forced organ harvesting has sparked international outrage and condemnation from many countries and organizations worldwide. Because of this, decisive steps must be taken immediately to stop this gross violation of human rights.

The dark world of the organ industry in China

China quickly became the world’s top center for organ transplant surgery. Since then, forced organ harvesting has been a hot topic of discussion. China increased organ transplants dramatically after 2000 without an official voluntary organ donation system. Some credit this to developments in medical technology. At the same time, others point to coerced organ harvesting as a possible root reason for this fast rise.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, who chaired the China Tribunal and prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said: “There is a systematic program to kill people. They have willing doctors, an enormous medical infrastructure, and it is by all accounts a very lucrative business.”

Organ removal without donor consented

UN human rights experts are concerned about claims of ‘organ harvesting.‘ Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, heard from reliable sources that prisoners from ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities might be given blood tests and organ exams like ultrasounds and x-rays without their consent, while other prisoners are not.

China has not enacted fundamental laws governing organ sourcing, donation, procurement, allocation, and transplantation. Interest groups heavily influence administrative policies and regulations. Unenforced in the medical system; unable to control the military, judiciary, or other entities. This leaves loopholes that allow for unethical organ procurement through side channels.

Death-row prisoners, re-categorized as voluntary citizen donors since 2015, account for a small fraction of all transplants performed in China. Voluntary donations combined are minuscule compared to the true scale of the organ transplant system. These results show that the system for getting organs for transplant, which includes COTRS, is not working well. This system is supposed to ensure that organs used for transplants come from people who have died or have agreed to donate their organs. But this system seems to be used to hide where the organs are coming from. And it doesn’t help very much with the number of transplants done in China.

Deliberately confirm brain death to exploit the source of human organs

Thousands of Chinese language papers describing transplants underwent a detailed analysis in the research published in the American Journal of Transplantation, the world’s leading transplant journal. The Australian National University and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation supported this research. They found 71 papers in which transplant surgeons discussed starting organ procurement surgery before a patient was declared brain dead. Robertson, a co-author of this research, warned that the declarations of brain death were either invalid, improperly issued, completely absent, or deliberately falsified. This was a direct violation of the “Dead Donor Rule,” an essential rule in transplant ethics.

Huang Jiefu is Chair of the National Organ Donation and Transplantation Committee (ODTC). He said that in 2017, 70% of organ transplants came from brain death donors. Most of the other 30% came from donations after brain death and cardiac death (DBCD). But as of late 2014, 90% of Chinese physicians didn’t know a conventional procedure to determine brain death. This was still the case in 2017. This contradiction suggests widespread deliberate confirm brain death to abuse of the source of human organs in China.

The actual origin of organs’ source

The CCP has claimed that most organs used for transplants come from death row prisoners and donations. However, some international organizations are skeptical. Active organ donors are almost rare in China due to cultural influences. Most Chinese people require their bodies to remain intact after death, making this theory nearly impossible. While the organ donation system has been in place for many years, it has had only minor effects. It likely accounts for only a fraction of yearly transplants.

The China Tribunal judgment revealed a large-scale and illegal human organ transplantation industry in China. They provided strong evidence that the source donor’s vital organs were prisoners of conscience who were killed ‘to order’ to harvest their organs. The scale at which these unethical practices are occurring is extremely alarming and has raised global ethical considerations around human organ transplantation.

A Billion Dollar Murder for the Organ Industry

Consider the following hypothetical scenario to better understand forced organ harvesting: a patient in Canada with end-stage heart disease requires a life-saving cardiac transplant.

In Canada, doctors tell patients to put their names on a waiting list; they have to wait until a compatible donor dies. This procedure can take several weeks, months, or even years. The patient then finds a Chinese transplant center that can arrange a cardiac transplant from a compatible donor weeks ahead of time.

This raises a number of essential questions. Because cardiac transplants can only use deceased donors, the hospital must match this patient with a prospective “dead” donor weeks in advance. How did the hospital track down voluntary organ donors for these transplant operations? How do they know when the donor will pass away? Has the donor permitted their organs to be harvested? Let’s watch the below video.

Human rights groups like the Dui Hua Foundation say that the number of criminals who are put to death in China has gone down since 2000. Furthermore, not everyone is eligible to be an organ donor. According to China’s state-run media Guangming Daily, around 50% of prospective organ donors in China do not qualify to be donors since their organ health is insufficient. And, considering their greater incidence of sexually transmitted illnesses and viral hepatitis, the proportion among executed convicts might be substantially lower.

Falun Gong practitioners are being killed for their organs

It’s unsettling to consider, but researchers have recently discovered evidence that China employs detained prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to offer compatible transplants for patients. These “donors” are executed, and their organs are harvested without their will and exploited in the lucrative transplant industry. These victims are primarily practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual meditation practice that Chinese authorities have persecuted since 1999.

Between 1999 and 2006, the number of transplant facilities in China surged fourfold, from 150 to over 600 (See: Report On Forced Organ Harvesting In China). Even without a voluntary donation scheme, such infrastructural growth implies that authorities felt confident in an ample supply of organs. Death row executions cannot explain such trust, but the laogai system indeed can. In China, Falun Gong practitioners’ lives have no legal protection and can be forfeited once they reach the laogai system.

According to Amnesty International and the Dui Hua Foundation, the Chinese government only kills a few thousand people each year. It is believed that these Falun Gong victims have been used as a source of organs for transplants, with their human organs harvested and sold on the open market. In the past two decades, this atrocity may have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners being executed or disappearing.

Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic and religious minorities were also killed for their organs in China. This alarming discovery demonstrates an unconscionable form of forced organ harvesting in the country.

Forced Organ Harvesting in China exposed

Roles of the Communist Party and government agencies in forced organ harvesting (accprding COHRC)
Roles of the Communist Party and government agencies in forced organ harvesting

Organ transplantation is one of the greatest successes of modern medicine, saving the lives of millions around the world – but it also provides a source for unscrupulous actors to exploit desperate patients. Organ trafficking is a booming business around the world. Rich “transplant tourists” cross national borders to buy organs from poor, persecuted, and often unaware victims. Nowhere is this more common than in China, where a lack of organs and a well-funded healthcare system have led to a lot of abuse and violations of human rights by doctors and nurses who want to make money. International mechanisms for human rights must be used to make sure that victims are compensated and that those who hurt them are held accountable. It’s not just a case of improving healthcare systems but establishing stricter international regulations as well.

Medical Genocide: Hidden Mass Murder in China’s Organ Transplant Industry

Worldwide evidence and investigation reports have indicated the practice of forced organ harvesting in China.

China is still the leader in organ transplants worldwide, but the source of the organs is still a mystery. People became more aware of CCP’s actions as the number of transplants grew quickly and exponentially after 1999, but the number of organ donors didn’t change much. This is directly related to the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong. Even more recently, Chinese government soldiers have started a campaign against the Uyghur ethnic group. They arrested large groups of Uyghurs, sterilized them, and forced them to work. Reports of suspected injustices involving illegal donor organ procurement continue to emerge.

Investigations and reports on the Chinese government harvesting living organs from its citizens

Three independent witnesses have publicly stated the organ harvesting allegations since March 2006 that some Chinese hospitals remove organs from imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners without their prior consent. 

David Matas and David Kilgour, two international human rights lawyers, are coauthors of Bloody Harvest. They concluded that the Chinese government and its agencies have put a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience to death in order to take their vital organs, including kidneys, livers, corneas, hearts, and pancreas.

Bloody Harvest/ The Slaughter: An Update
Bloody Harvest/ The Slaughter: An Update by David Matas, David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann

According to the witnesses, the unwilling victims were imprisoned in facilities that resembled detention centers or concentration camps. CCP thoroughly investigated their tissue compatibility and stored it in data banks. This method enabled Chinese transplant surgeons to provide donor organs on short notice.

Some of these transplant centers’ publicly accessible websites promised donor organs in as little as 2-4 weeks and sometimes as little as four hours. In Western countries, the average waiting time for an organ transplant is several years.

Since then, the researchers have gathered and published a lot of evidence about the government-sanctioned, systematic removal of organs from prisoners without their consent. Overall, the information gathered strengthens the veracity of previous allegations.

Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update by David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann & David Matas

Bloody Harvest / The Slaughter - An Update
Bloody Harvest / The Slaughter – An Update

This report is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the horrible things the Chinese government has done when it comes to organ harvesting. This full and thorough report gives almost all the evidence that organ harvesting is happening in China, as well as some more theoretical evidence. It’s shocking, to say the least, that these kinds of acts were not only condoned but actively supported by a powerful government—the CCP.

The researchers gathered information primarily from Chinese medical journals, transplant physicians, medical professionals, media reports, official statements, government and hospital websites, web archives, government policies, legislation, and industry regulations, national strategies and plans, research programs, and funding allocations, awards, patents, and other publicly available sources. Researchers also called Chinese hospitals to confirm the status of their organ transplant programs and other information.

Harvested Alive 10 Years Investigation of Force Organ Harvesting 

Doctor Wang’s research shows that organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China is still happening. His research took ten years, and he got evidence from Chinese doctors, judges, military officials, and hospital websites. This forced removal of organs sometimes happens while the person is still alive. People need to know about this.

Final reports of China Tribunal

China Transplant Abuse International Coalition, a non-profit group made up of lawyers, academics, human rights activists, and medical experts, set up the China Tribunal, which made its decision in London.

The China Tribunal’s seven-person panel at a public hearing in London on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo by theepochtimes.com)
The China Tribunal’s seven-person panel at a public hearing in London on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo by theepochtimes.com)

The Tribunal examined multiple lines of evidence before issuing its final decision on China’s forced organ harvesting operations in June 2019. It included medical testing of detained prisoners, transplant numbers, recorded phone calls to transplant institutions, and testimony from surgeons and convicts.

Forced organ harvesting from prisoners has been going on “on a substantial scale by state-supported or approved organizations and individuals,” according to the seven-member panel chaired by Sir Geofrey Nice, QC, the lead prosecutor in the trial of the former Serbian President Slobodan Miloevi. There is also no sign that these practices, which the Tribunal has labeled crimes against humanity, have stopped.

After looking at a lot of different pieces of evidence, the Tribunal found that it was likely that between 60,000 and 90,000 more organ transplant surgeries happen in China each year than what the government says. The Tribunal concluded that Falun Gong practitioners are probably the “principal source” of forced organ harvesting.

Despite reform claims, the Chinese government is still using organs from Falun Gong practitioners for transplants.

The world has recognized China as having the second-largest transplant program. Chinese transplant officials claim significant transplant reform has occurred since 2015 and ended the horrific practice of using organs from executed prisoners. This provided hope for substantial reform and an end to transplant abuse, but several years later, there remain major questions about the transparency of this system, including potential human organ trafficking.

Falun Gong practitioners have been the primary victims of this cruel crime. However, there are now claims that imprisoned Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities are also victims. The allegations are based partly on accounts of mandatory medical testing in Xinjiang consistent with organ removal preparation.

According to Chinese transplant officials, significant organ harvesting reform has occurred since 2015. One document by the Australian National University refuted this. They published it in the world’s leading transplant journal-the American Journal of Transplantation. This report suggests that many prisoners were executed for their organs rather than brain dead.

In 2007, the Chinese embassies in Canada and Israel both sought to silence voices of concern regarding their countries’ practices. The Chinese embassy request to stop showing a documentary about Falun Gong and organ harvesting in Canada. And in Israel, they tried and failed to stop an international human rights lawyer from discussing this subject. Eleven years later, Uyghurs still faced issues with detentions, surveillance, forced labor, and sterilization. Concerns about forced organ harvesting that prompted initial investigations by lawyers such as Kilgour and Matas still remain unresolved today.

CCP’s propaganda about “voluntary organ donors” is nothing more than a sophism

Because most Chinese desire to preserve their bodies intact after death, voluntary organ donation is uncommon in this country. Before 2009, there were only 120 voluntary donations in total. CCP said that organs sourced from executed prisoners accounted for the majority of transplants. In an attempt to change this, China began building a national organ donation program in 2013. However, only 0.02% (262,500) of the Chinese population had registered as organ donors by the end of 2017.

In comparison, according to DAFOH’s report, until 2019, 145 million Americans had signed up to be organ donors. In 2019, the US had about 19,267 real donors, for a ratio of around 0.013%. While China published that they had almost 900,000 registered organ donors, about 5,818 actual dead donors, for a ratio of approximately 0.6%. Let’s apply the same ratio between donor pool size and transplants in the U.S. to China: 900,000×0.013%. It would only be able to carry out 117 transplants annually from willing sources. This is far fewer than the number of 5,818 conducted in 2019.

Research by China Organ Harvest Research Center (COHRC)

Transplant Abuse in China Continues Despite Claims of Reform

Transplant Abuse in China Continues Despite Claims of Reform

Forced organ harvesting is a major issue in the world of transplant abuse in Chinese hospitals. Officials claim a transition to ethical organ donation and transplantation started in 2015. However, forced harvesting still continues. This is an ethical crime. The transplant industry outpaces donations, and authorities take organs from prisoners of conscience. This research shows that forced organ harvesting is still taking place throughout China.

Documenting Genocide: A Fact-Finding Report

After publishing the above report, COHRC has conducted additional research on the victims and what drives this practice in China.

This study contains accounts from families of suspected organ harvesting victims, missing people, and live prisoners tortured in China for their religious views but managed to avoid organ harvesting.

The Chinese regime’s execution of political detainees for organs and its drive to eliminate Falun Gong is a crime. COHRC has applied international law involving this genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Extrajudicial Killing of Prisoners of Conscience for Organs in China and the China and The Campaign to Eradcate Falun Gong

A short report by Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH)

DAFOH includes transplant physicians and medical professionals of various specialties from all over the world. DAFOH researched on China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS). This organ donation program just started in 2015. DAFOH’s short report shows that China’s program has worrying differences between the number of people who registered to donate organs and the number of organs taken for transplants. Other countries, such as the USA and the United Kingdom, have established organ donation programs that are decades old. However, it already shows an unusual rate of increase in its number of registered organ donors.

Registered Organ donors data in the last 2015
Registered Organ donors data in the last 2015 in China (according to COTRS).
Registered Organ donors data between 2015 and 2018 in China
Registered Organ donor data between 2015 and 2018 in China (according to COTRS).

The report raises questions about the veracity of the Chinese government’s data. Two spikes at the end of 2015 and 2016 showed exactly 25,000 people had registered as organ donors in a 24-hour time frame. Similarly, more than 88,000 were added to the pool of registered donors in just one week of 2016.

Analysis of official deceased organ donation data casts doubt on the credibility of China’s organ transplant reform

The “dead donor rule” in organ transplants ensures organ harvest occurs if the donor consents. Alternatively, their family can agree to donate the organs on their behalf after their death. Those needing a life-saving transplant must wait until a compatible donor dies. Despite this regulation, China is the “only country that has run what amounts to a state-sanctioned organ trafficking business out of its hospitals, while systematically using prisoners as the almost sole source of organs over many decades.”

The People’s Republic of China attempted to modernize its organ transplant system. BMC Medical Ethics has since investigated significant dead organ donation statistics from 2010 to 2018. The Red Cross Society of China and the COTRS published two central-level datasets. The analysis examined these datasets for signs of manipulation. This includes conformance to simple mathematical formulas, arbitrary internal ratios, anomalous data artifacts, and cross-consistency.

The findings indicate that some people have created and manipulated both databases. Five provincial datasets had data artifacts that were contradictory, unreasonable, or just plain weird. This suggests that these data were changed to ensure that central quotas were met.

The authors identify a variety of evidence that systematically fabricates and manipulates official Chinese organ transplant databases. This gives a convincing explanation for their findings. Some ostensibly nonvoluntary donors tend to be misclassified as voluntary as well. This occurs alongside legitimate volunteer organ transplant activity, often rewarded with big financial payouts. These results have implications for foreign contact with China’s organ transplant system.

South Korean TV Documentary Confirms Organ Harvesting Still Occurring in China

In October 2017, a major South Korean TV station dispatched investigative journalists to one of China’s transplant hospitals. It is the Orient Organ Transplant Center in Tianjin City, one of China’s largest transplant centers.

According to the journalists, the transplant center generally quoted patients’ wait times for organs ranging from days to weeks. They also stated that the center requested monetary “donations” from patients in exchange for expediting transplants. Observations revealed that operating rooms were in use around the clock.

China has claimed that it no longer performs transplants for foreign patients. However, the international transplant department alone performed eight transplants the day before a visit. The center also housed foreign patients in a nearby hotel and its own wards with 500 transplant beds. These findings imply that the center continues to perform thousands of transplants each year.

All of these show that forced organ harvesting and human organ trafficking have continued in China.

Governments worldwide need to investigate these allegations. It is very important to do something to stop transplant abuse in China and the global organ trafficking industry. Without outside pressure, it is unlikely that the CCP will be moved to confront this grave human rights violation alone. It is critical to prioritize finding solutions that recognize its worldwide reach. Collaboration on instituting control measures that successfully safeguard vulnerable communities from exploitation is also key.

This crime against humanity must be stopped right now

When the Chinese Communist Party decided to crack down on Falun Gong in 1999, it set off a series of cruel events that the rest of the world has mostly ignored. What began as mass arrests quickly became an indefinite detention of countless people who would not renounce their beliefs. This translated into transplant hospitals around China and even abroad tapping into a seemingly endless source of organs for transplantation. Brokers started advertising the availability and price of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs. Transplant hospitals began to spring up as a result of this crime. The world’s second-largest transplant program was born through such heinous human rights violations. Moreover, with recent reports showing evidence of organ harvesting from Uyghurs by the CCP, this crime against humanity does not seem to end anytime soon if we don’t act right now.

Calling to action

Since forced organ harvesting began, it’s a lot of individuals, organizations, and governments have taken a stand and spoken out against this atrocity. It is necessary to understand forced organ harvesting and human organ trafficking in China. Authoritative organizations need to act now.

One measure would be to make it illegal to send organ transplant devices to groups involved in human organ trafficking. Another measure would involve punishing people or government officials who are found to be involved in these crimes and making it a requirement that organ trafficking activities in other countries be reported. Institutions that train surgeons for organ transplants should also be closely looked at to ensure that anyone or any group involved in forced organ harvesting is not allowed to learn from them. It’s time for us to unite against these atrocities and work together so that no one is again a victim of this crime.

Peaceful protests by Falun Gong practitioners protest against the persecution and organ harvesting in China
Falun Dafa Day parade in Manhattan, New York City, on May 16, 2019. (Edward Dye/The Epoch Times)

Reports of large-scale forced organ harvesting in China are too scary. More and more countries are making it illegal for their citizens to travel there for a transplant. Several human rights lawyers and NGOs worldwide have spoken out—peaceful protests by Falun Gong practitioners everywhere serve as a reminder that now is the time to act. It’s our moral duty to do what we can, and it will contribute to ending organ trafficking in China.

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