China to stop harvesting organs from prisoners

The mainland – which has long been criticised by international human rights groups for using organs harvested from executed prisoners as its main source of organ transplants – will completely ban the practice from next year.

All organs used in future transplants must be from donors, the Southern Metropolis News quoted Dr Huang Jiefu as saying. Huang is former deputy director of the health ministry and director of the China Organ Donation and Transplant Committee.

Major transplant centres had already stopped using executed prisoners’ organs, said Huang, who chaired an industry forum in Kunming on Wednesday.

There is more here, via Mark Thorson.  The article notes China has one of the lowest voluntary organ donation rates in the world.  0.6 individuals out of a million sign up to donate their organs after they die, and that means the number of actual donors is lower yet.  If you google around, you will find some ambiguity as to whether the donation rate or the “register to donate rate” is that low, but as far as I can tell (try this Chinese source) it is the actual register to donate rate, in part because they just aren’t many ways to register right now.  Please let us know if you have additional information on this point.

Wikipedia by the way reports:

The wait times for organ transplants for organ recipients in China are much lower than elsewhere in the world, and there is evidence that the execution of prisoners for their organs is “timed for the convenience of the waiting recipient.

Here are some of Alex’s earlier posts on a market for transplanted organs.


Given an assumption that the death penalty is moral:

1) Is it wrong to take the organs of the executed person without their consent and use them (for a good purpose)?

2) Is it wrong to time the execution so that the most good will come from use of their organs?

I'm against the death penalty myself, but I wonder whether a good argument in favor of the death penalty and against this organ harvesting can be made.

@dan1111- we don't know what arguments hold in China, since the market for organs in China no doubt skews the application of the death penalty. If Mr. Xshoe of Hunam province can make money fast from harvesting human kidneys, he will not hesitate to find some marginal person guilty of some crime that warrants a capital sentence, like say tainting children's milk.

I think that if you assume no corruption and some sort of idealized independence between the judge and the medical staff involved there might be no problem at all. Lack of independence between medical staff and judicial staff will create potential problems such as conflict of interest issues; a simple and easy-to-understand case of this would be one where the judge, or someone close to him/her, is the one who is in need of an organ. If the judge can be convinced by monetary means (or other means) to provide an extra organ, and the medical staff can be convinced in a similar (or different, but likewise morally questionable) manner to give the organ in question to someone powerful in need of it, you have a potential problem as well, because it might mean that someone who was not guilty gets killed to provide the organ in question.

The more judges and medical staff coordinate in this process, the easier it seems to me to be to implement morally questionable practices (because alignment of incentives among decision-makers involved will make collusion easier to accomplish, making perversion of justice easier to accomplish), so a case might be made for 2) being problematic even if one thinks 1) is not a big deal.

In the US case, the long time-lag between conviction and execution might make a model like this a lot more acceptable to people than it might be to people living in a country like China, where the time lag is much shorter; if it'll take a decade for the state to actually kill the guy, it would not make a lot of sense to try to influence a judge in order to obtain a much-needed organ. There might still be potential problems regarding who gets to receive the organ, but the risk of people getting the death penalty despite insufficient evidence due to 'the organ factor' would not really be a factor. Of course there are other issues associated with long time lags which one might bring up in the discussion at that point.

@US - good analysis, but I think you could take it even further: just because there is a time lag between conviction and execution does not mean the system as a whole will not be skewed towards harvesting organs. That's because people will realize that unless prisoners are constantly condemned to death, the market for organs will, even with a time lag, dry up. It's kind of like the system for compensation for a CEO by the Board of Directors, who are also CEOs at other companies, or the K-street lobby giving jobs to old US pols. The system as a whole works for the common good of the insiders, even though it's hard to prove in any one individual case.

This is a very good argument as to why this makes bad policy. But it's not really a moral argument--it doesn't prove that the practice is "wrong" per se.

Actually a true liberal free market oriented economist who divorces morals from economic considerations, akin to those "Freakonomic" type economists popular in the 80s and 90s (less so today) would argue that it's not our business to entertain morals with economics. And they have a point. The same thing was said about economic sanctions against apartheid in the 1980s (not to mention economic sanctions are usually ineffective). But this kind of thinking supposes a totally free market, which we don't really have in practice. In practice, game theory and imperfect markets reign. The problem is when you link too many trade issues together, you get nowhere. +Is TC going to opine on the proposed TTIP treaty, which will remove certain trade issues from the purview of sovereign governments and allow corporations to sue governments over laws that infringe TTIP?

I rarely read chinese papers or see much PRC news these days, but there have been three or four feature stories in the past couple of years about people donating organs. These are all reported in heroic and glowing terms with much emotional rhetoric, accompained by exhortations. There is clearly a campaign going on.

While I can tell you that Chinese culture has a bias against organ donation, this bias in hugely strengthened by the knowledge that organs are taken from prisoners. It is my opinion that many Chinese cultural taboos are really responses to various punitive practices common in Chinese history.

Larry Niven wrote predicted that this will happen in his books.

Niven speculated that as medical technology improved, politicians would impose harsher penalties on law breakers in order to meet growing demand for replacement organs. Niven felt that this situation would result in the death penalty being imposed for minor offences such as speeding. Interesting to see the Chinese moving in a different direction.

Well, I'm sure if the Chinese government says it'll stop harvesting organs from prisoners next year then it will do so.

They wouldn't lie. Would they?

Why should they lie?

Don't worry. Like all other governments, the Chinese government never lies.

I'm curious about the execution method. My guess is that using chemicals would spoil organs, firing squad is out of question, do they need to make it as closer to a teenager crashing on a bike? Hanging? leaving the prisoner overnight in a freezer? Perhaps the human rights issue.

Pistol to the back of the head, though the government claims that it is transitioning to lethal injection.

There are multiple accounts of nonlethal shots on organ donors and the real cause of death being organ removal. I think the fundamental creepiness of the PRC is one of the hardest things to explain. People, even Chinese people, just don't want to believe it.

Waking up from surgery without a heart would probably do the trick.

Well, removing organs from a not-dead person has a higher priority compared to formalities like a consensual donation contract.

This is unfortunate news in my opinion. Increasing the harvest and creating an export market would act as a significant stimulus to the Chinese economy, not to mention the potential benefits incurred world wide.

This article from 2012 made a deep impact on me about the Chinese blood testing Uyghur political prisoners for matches to party members who needed transplants. Then shooting them to minimize body distress minutes before the transplant.’s-‘organ-donation’-nightmare

A dictatorship announced something. It must be true!

No way they could just forge the paperwork.

In principle, it seems pretty sensible to harvest the organs of executed prisoners, so long as you can be sure that they would have been executed anyways.

But the existence of an incentive whereby certain officials may profit from the trade of their organs in one way or another, more than likely it will be a net gain to discard those precious organs and remove the incentive to use the death penalty to profit from organs.

I doubt that a very high share of executions would not happen in China as a result of removing organ harvesting of executed prisoners, but the move will almost certainly improve its international reputation. And if there's one thing I know about the Chinese is that face matters.

What? Harvesting the organs of executed prisoners is China's only human rights violation that I actually support! (assuming it isn't influencing sentencing I suppose)

Please read this announcement from DAFOH if you would like to understand more on this topic.

"World should be skeptical of China’s announcement to end organ harvesting from executed prisoners by January 1, 2015

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2014 — Just days before International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10th, the news that the People’s Republic of China will end its internationally-condemned practice of harvesting organs from prisoners by 1 January 2015 is hardly credible given the government’s long history of breaking similar promises, according to the global humanitarian watchdog group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting.

There is no indication that China, under the current circumstances, will be able to live up to its latest promise, which was reported Thursday in state media. The Chinese Medical Association first made this promise in 2007, a year before the Olympic Games were held in Beijing. Multiple plans to end the inhumane practice that harvests and allocates organs in secrecy—which is disproportionately aimed at political prisoners, and members of ethnic and religious minorities like the Falun Gong—have followed ever since, all of them unfulfilled.

The new policy is more likely the latest attempt by the Chinese government to stifle the growing international outcry against the practice. The Canadian Parliament’s International Subcommittee on Human Rights recently passed a resolution condemning forced organ harvesting in China, and a similar bill, H.Res.281, is now pending in the U.S. Congress having reached 245 cosponsors, drawing broad support from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The Chinese government’s claim is especially difficult to accept given the logistics of organ donation in China. With an average voluntary donation rate of only 0.6 per million, China is not in the position to meet the demand for organs. Even this year’s purported 1,500 voluntary donors are not enough to supply organs for its 10,000 transplants. And, the organ donation practices are murky: the Red Cross Society of China—not affiliated with the International Red Cross—is mobilizing organ donors by paying 100,000 RMB ($16,000), a practice that violates 3 of the 11 Guiding Principles of the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2013, one of China’s organ donation coordinators threatened to remove a critically injured patient’s breathing machine if the family refused to donate his organs if he died.

China has also attempted to bluff the international community in the past, first, in 2001, by denying the practice even took place, and then through its non-transparent China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS). This March, a Chinese official spoke of “voluntary organ donations by executed prisoners” and the intention to enter their organs into COTRS along with regular citizens. They redefine death-row candidates as citizens who have the right to “voluntarily donate” their organs. However, this is in violation of international ethical standards for organ transplantation as prisoners are deprived of their freedom and not free of coercion, and therefore unable to give free, voluntary consent.

After years of repeated, but unfulfilled announcements, the international community cannot simply take China’s word at face value. To be meaningful, a genuine, transparent verification process needs to include the following:

China must acknowledge that not only executed prisoners but also prisoners of conscience are subject to forced organ harvesting.

China must provide transparent access to its organ procurement pathways to guarantee that living prisoners of conscience are NOT forcibly enrolled in a “voluntary” organ donation system.
The widespread use of medical exams among forced labor camp workers remains a source of concern and commands transparent investigation.

International inspectors must be able to verify that the practices in China align with international ethical standards."

Here are three books published on the topic of forced organ harvesting crimes:
1) Bloody Harvest: Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China by David Matas & David Kilgour
2) State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China by David Matas
3) The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China's Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem by Ethan Gutmann

The Chinese government’s announcement that they would end the practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners is a propaganda ploy to pacify growing international criticism, and it ignores the evidence that shows a majority of harvested organs in China are taken from murdered prisoners of conscience, principally Falun Gong practitioners.

For more than a decade, the international community has condemned China’s practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. In 2006, reports of killing Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience for their organs first surfaced. As more evidence was uncovered, governments around the world put more pressure on China.
The new regulation announced Thursday by China’s state-run media is the latest in a string of similar announcements dating back to 2007, none of which have changed the grisly practice of extracting organs from executed prisoners.

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