October 2017Focus2017Illegal Organ Trade

Focus on Illegal Organ Trade: China

By Renata Koch Alvarenga

In 2014, a six-year- old child from northern Shanxi province of China woke up without eyes, after being drugged and kidnapped, The New Yorker reports. What seems like a nightmare is an all too common occurrence resulting from the high-volume organ trade occurring in China. Stories like this have been recurrent for years regarding the illegal organ trade in China, where selling organs in the black market has been an easy way of making profit.

Despite being the second largest performer of transplants in the world, after the United States, many Chinese citizens do not receive organ donations, reports China Daily. This is due to the fact that there is widespread misallocation and mismanagement of organs from donors to patients. In reality, only one per-cent of the population in need actually gets out of the waiting list, reports China Daily.

The Chinese government admitted in 2009 to using dead prisoners’ organs to conduct transplants in the country, says the Telegraph. Facing a lack of donations due to the traditional belief that bodies need to be buried intact in order to be reincarnated whole, hospitals have adopted the controversial practice of taking organs from executed prisoners, reports Telegraph. The Chinese government admitted these allegations in 2009, and has since claimed to have implemented changes.

According to Reuters, the constant accusations by human rights organizations led to a reform in the organ transplant sector, headed by Huang Jiefu, former deputy Minister of Health in China. Since 2014, the government has banned the practice of using organs from prisoners and hospitals can only accept organs that have been voluntarily donated.

Mr. Huang told The Guardian in February of this year, “there is zero tolerance. However, China is a big country with a 1.3 billion population so I am sure, definitely, there is some violation of the law.” Mr. Huang’s skepticism is shared by the New Yorker, which points out the ambiguity in China’s commitment and its unclear enforcement mechanisms.

Another issue of organ trafficking in China pertains to “transplant tourism”, where foreigners travel to the country to get transplants at a lower cost and greater expediency than domestic procedures. Transplant tourism also faces legal challenges as many state’s legal systems do not encompass extraterritorial crimes, and are therefore difficult to prosecute, reports The Epoch Times.

According to the International Medical Travel Journal, the Chinese Ministry of Health has told domestic hospitals not to give transplants to tourists, and Mr. Huang has stated that “medical institutions and staff who carried out the organ transplants against the rules will be severely dealt with according to the law.” However, due to vague enforcement methods and the extraterritorial nature of the crimes, their punishment if difficult.

Earlier in 2017, China’s organ trade was the theme of a controversy regarding the Vatican summit, as reported by The Guardian. Many attendees did not want Chinese representatives at the summit due to the state’s ties to organ trafficking.

Francis Delmonico, professor at the Harvard Medical School and to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, highlighted the importance of Huang Jiefu at the event, given his tireless work to ban the practice of using organs from executed prisoners for transplants.

The regional director for East Asia at Amnesty International, Nicholas Bequelin, criticized the standards used by the Chinese to conduct their transplants, but praises the efforts by Huang to change the current practices. Regarding the controversy about the Vatican summit, Bequelin told The Guardian, “they’re not inviting the executioner-in- chief. They are inviting the person who is energetically – unsuccessfully so far – trying to reform it.”

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