Tags: China | Turns | Body | Parts | Criminals | Into | Cash

China Turns Body Parts of Criminals Into Cash

Wednesday, 16 May 2001 12:00 AM

Details of the shocking scandal of body parts harvested from executed prisoners being sold to transplant patients was revealed in the May 15 issue of the Village Voice, which tracked down a story long rumored and now shown to be true: Executed Chinese prisoners are the source of many of the body parts transplant patients have been given while visiting mainland China. And they don’t have to be violent criminals. What would be minor offenses in most countries can get you killed in the Chinese worker’s paradise, especially, it seems, if you have healthy organs.

Even more horrifying is evidence that executions in this communist dictatorship are carried out solely to harvest prisoners’ organs.

Executions in China surged to 400 in April alone as the communist government conducted another of its periodic "strike hard" crackdowns on crime. During the most recent campaign, in 1996, more than 4,000 prisoners were killed, an investigator for the Laogai Research Foundation, a group founded by renowned human rights crusader Harry Wu and named for China’s gulags, told the Voice.

Even in a normal year China executes more inmates than in all other nations combined, reports Amnesty International. In 1999, the confirmed toll reached 1,263, according to the organization, which gathers its statistics from tallies published, for propaganda purposes, in government-run newspapers.

Executions often come in floods, usually around the holidays, according to the investigator. The Labor Day celebrations in early May are seen by Chinese doctors as a particularly good time to get an organ, but there's no better time than the Lunar New Year, the investigator added.

As many as 70 percent of the hospitals where the harvested organs are transplanted into buyers are run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has the closest connections to the prisons and can be present at executions, she explains. Also present at many executions are doctors waiting to remove the condemned person’s organs for transplanting into a waiting customer.

"Money from patients purchasing organs is dispersed among those who provide access to the prisoner's body. Hospitals even pay judges to tip them off when they sentence a suitable donor to death. ‘The money goes to officials all of the way up the line,’ she says. ‘It goes to the courts, the people in charge of the prisons. It goes to the doctors, the hospitals, everything.’”

The grisly trade came to light because of a complaint filed by Dr. Thomas Diflo, director of the renal transplant program at New York University Medical Center. Diflo told the Voice that he has seen half a dozen people, mostly young Chinese women, who have come to his hospital for postoperative care after receiving kidney transplants in China taken from executed prisoners.

Transplant patients need drugs that prevent rejection of the transplanted organs and are forced to go to U.S. hospitals or doctors for postoperative care, Diflo explained.

On Jan. 11, Diflo took his "horror at a real ethical quagmire" to the medical center's Ethics Committee, the Voice says.

Diflo is the first American doctor to talk publicly about this experience, and he did so only after being drawn out by the Voice. According to the magazine, the gruesome practice has been documented among ethnic Chinese communities throughout Asia, but so far every attempt to prove that people were leaving U.S. soil to buy organs from China's massive death row has failed.

"To tell you the truth, the original rationale for bringing this situation to the Ethics Committee was my own discomfort in taking care of these patients,” the doctor told the Voice. "I was outraged at the way in which they obtained their organs, and I had a great deal of difficulty separating that fact from the care of the patient."

"Several patients were very up-front and candid about it, that they bought an organ taken from an executed convict for about $10,000," Diflo recalled, noting that they showed no signs of being disturbed about the source of their new kidneys.

According to the Voice, the Laogai Research Foundation reports that sometimes scores of operations are done at the same hospital on the same day for patients who are essentially walk-ins. China says it has performed about 25,000 transplants in 20 years, but makes no distinction between organs culled from executions and those garnered through accidents and live donors.

"Forced labor from China's laogai has always been a source of cash for the country's rapidly advancing economy,” the Voice explained. "And punishment doesn't necessarily end at the point of death, usually a single shot to the back of the head. Families are often forced to pay for the bullet used. But the laogai turned into Execution, Inc. less than 20 years ago after the introduction of Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug that prevents rejection of organs by the recipient's body.

The entire process is all about money. Said Diflo: "I don't think prisoners are given the option of donating or not donating. It's not done from an altruistic point of view … The central issue is the nonconsensual taking of organs and making human body parts a commodity."

Added the Laogai investigator: "It's very obviously profit-motivated because if the person can pay extra then they might be able to move up an execution date, or have it arranged for later," she says. "And those who pay more get better treatment." She cites a case where an ethnic Chinese patient from Malaysia was allowed to die after being refused life-saving anti-rejection medications because his money ran out.

Harry Wu spent 19 years in the laogai. His Laogai Research Foundation claims that when bullets are used, the target reflects the market: a shot to the head when a liver is wanted, a shot to the chest when corneas are in demand. Amnesty International also reports that a form of lethal injection gaining acceptance in China can be used to kill without damaging crucial organs, and can blur the line between life and death.

The Voice says that according to the investigator, nonsmoking prisoners are given blood tests and medical exams to assess compatibility with arriving patients, and courts set execution dates accordingly, making the whole process something like ordering take-out food at a Chinese restaurant: It’s already cooked and ready when you come to get it.

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Details of the shocking scandal of body parts harvested from executed prisoners being sold to transplant patients was revealed in the May 15 issue of the Village Voice, which tracked down a story long rumored and now shown to be true: Executed Chinese prisoners are the...
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2001-00-16
Wednesday, 16 May 2001 12:00 AM
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