Prisoner Organ Harvesting Phaseout Soon to Begin

China has long been criticized by international health and human rights organizations for having an organ transplant system that relies on organs harvested from executed prisoners. After a policy overhaul that began in 2007 and a pilot program that has been in operation since 2010, China’s vice minister of health Huang Jiefu announced last year that this practice would soon be phased out to make way for a voluntary donation system. More recently, Huang has said that the switch to the new voluntary donation system will begin in November at select hospitals licensed to carry out organ transplants. Reuters reports:

The health ministry will begin enforcing the use of organs from voluntary donors allocated through a fledging national programme at a meeting set to be held in November, former deputy health minister Huang Jiefu, who still heads the ministry’s organ transplant office, said.

“I am confident that before long all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs,” Huang said.

The first batch of all 165 Chinese hospitals licensed for transplants will promise to stop using organs harvested from death row inmates at the November meeting, he added. Huang did not specify the exact number.

An Australian-trained liver transplant surgeon, Huang said the China Organ Transplant Committee will ensure that the “source of the organs for transplantation must meet the commonly accepted ethical standards in the world”. [Source]

The Global Times also spoke to Huang and a number of other medical professionals about the implications of the new system:

“It’s time for China to establish a suitable organ donation system. Without public donations, China has no organs to transplant,” Huang told China National Radio Thursday.

“Public organ donations can also improve the country’s international image and promote the medical sciences,” Yang Chunhua, director of the Intensive Care Unit of the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong Province, told the Global Times.

“China has been lambasted for violating human rights with organs from criminals,” Yang said. “Chinese doctors don’t even have the chance to publish their papers on organ transplants in international journals.” [Source]

Executed convicts were once virtually the only source for organs in China, and little regulation oversaw the extraction process. According to an article by Huang Jiefu published last year at The Lancet medical journal, 90 percent of post-mortem organs transplanted in 2009 came from executed prisoners. As noted by Reuters, Huang has said that so far this year 54 percent of transplanted organs came from death row. Also see a podcast from Caixin covering the pilot program that helped to develop the volunteer based system, as well as the host of social and cultural issues that surround organ donation in China.