China aims to end death-row organ use


China is working on ways to phase out the use of organs from executed prisoners for donations and focusing instead on encouraging more organ donation, a senior health official said yesterday.

A medical trial between March 2010 and the end of September, involving 465 donation cases, resulted in 1,279 organs being donated by members of the public, Huang Jiefu, vice minister of health, told the Xinhua news agency. “We must distance ourselves from the reliance on harvesting organs from prisoners should the undertaking become sustainable,” Mr Huang said.

“We must establish an organ donation system that is in line with Chinese social ethics and China’s national conditions and based on voluntary donations from the public.”

About 65 per cent of all organs “donated” in China come from executed prisoners, according to some Chinese estimates, although the World Health Organisation believes more than 90 per cent come from death-row inmates after their executions.

Last year, three doctors were arrested for illegally harvesting organs at a private clinic in the northern province of Hebei.

Illegal organ donations frequently take place. In one case, authorities in Chenzhou in central China formally charged five people for illegal organ trading after a 17-year-old sold a kidney to buy an iPad and a new iPhone.

Under the law, criminals convicted of “forced organ removal, forced organ donation or organ removal from juveniles” could face punishment for homicide.

Compensation schemes

Among the measures being used to woo organ donors are lower medical fees, tax incentives, “favourable” tuition fees and funeral expenses. The compensation schemes will be mostly undertaken by the Red Cross Society of China, Dr Huang said at an event in Guangzhou this week.

In Guangdong province alone, the scheme had resulted in more than 100 organ donations during the trial period, Dr Huang said.

Li Peng, a doctor responsible for organ donation in Guangzhou Military Hospital, said he was often asked by people whether their donated organs would be offered first to the cadres or rich people.

“The hospital doesn’t have good solutions to those kind of questions,” said Dr Li.