Clampdown on China's black market for organs


Three doctors caught preparing to illegally remove a man’s kidney, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing

THREE DOCTORS have been arrested for illegally harvesting organs at a private clinic in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, as part of an ongoing campaign in China against illegal organ transplants.

A police official from the Public Security Bureau of Bazhou said a private clinic was raided after authorities received a tip-off, and the doctors were caught preparing to remove a kidney from a man, whose surname was given as Yan, the China Daily newspaper reported.

All three doctors were licensed practitioners from the city of Dezhou, in neighbouring Shandong province.

China introduced legislation in 2007 banning organ transplants from living donors except for spouses, blood relatives and adopted family members. The laws banned payment for organs and were aimed at outlawing transplant tourism by wealthy Japanese and Koreans.

Chinese nationals are given priority in receiving transplants of human organ and only under special circumstances are people of other countries allowed to get an organ transplant in China.

There have been countless stories about illegal organ transplants and reports of a large underground network profiting from the country’s demand for donor organs.

On the black market, the cost of a kidney transplant runs to €55,000 and a liver up to €130,000. Some wealthier people, including foreign patients, can get transplants earlier and more easily because they have the cash to pay for the service.

There are regular horror stories in the media. A heavily indebted man in the central province of Hunan had one of his kidneys removed after agreeing to sell it to an illegal organ dealer. The man changed his mind about the deal but was still forced to undergo surgery.

In June, a 17-year-old boy in Anhui province sold a kidney through an underground dealer and used the money to buy an iPad and an iPhone.

Last year China launched a trial programme allowing people to voluntarily donate their organs after death in order to meet increasing demand for donor organs. There are 1.5 million patients on China’s organ transplant waiting list; the number of registered donors is only about 10,000, partly because of taboos about organ donation: many believe a person’s body is part of their parents’ flesh and blood and so are unwilling to donate their organs after death because it is seen as disrespectful.

The Beijing government is also trying to move away from the use of executed prisoners as the chief source of organs for transplants. About 65 per cent of all organs donated in China came from executed prisoners, according to some Chinese estimates; the World Health Organisation says more than 90 per cent come from death-row inmates after their executions.

Families have complained that the bodies of their executed relatives are not handed over. Executions in China are carried out by a bullet to the back of the head, but increasingly local authorities are using lethal injection, which helps preserve the internal organs.