China, long notorious for being the world's most lavish state practitioner of the death penalty, has announced that it will put an end to the practice of harvesting the organs of executed prisoners by 2017. China Daily reports:
China has pledged to abolish the practice of taking transplant human organs from condemned prisoners within three to five years, a senior health official said Thursday.
China is creating a national organ donation system to reduce its reliance on organ donations from death row inmates and encourage donations from the public, Huang Jiefu, vice minister of health, told a conference in east China's city of Hangzhou.
[...]"The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government," he said.
Health officials have said insufficient organ donations by the public mean that the majority of transplanted organs in China come from executed prisoners - but only with prior consent.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that about 1.5 million people in China need transplants, but only some 10,000 transplants are performed annually.
The Wall Street Journal provides some context and statistics surrounding the harvesting of prisoner's organs in China, and mentions the viewpoint of some who are awaiting organ donations:
Due in part to traditional beliefs and distrust of the medical system, voluntary donations are rare in China, where the need for organs far exceeds the supply. An estimated 1.5 million people in China are in need of organ transplants annually, while only 10,000 receive them, according to government statistics.
An estimated 65% of China's annual organ donations come from prisoners, according to human-rights advocacy organization Amnesty International.
[...]Some patients awaiting transplants say abolishing inmate donations will be akin to a death sentence for them, according to a report published in the medical journal Lancet in 2011. The report said the number of patients requiring transplants is rising due to the rise in chronic and noncommunicable diseases in the country.
PRI's The World talks about the subject with their China correspondent Mary Kay Magistad. In the interview they discuss the details of the practice, and talk a bit more about the conflicting "traditional beliefs" mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article:
[...W]ithin the Chinese Confucian belief system you’re supposed to keep the body intact after a person dies. This is part of ancestral worship but also just part of how people feel about their bodies being a sacred part of themselves. You shouldn’t be even donating blood much less organs. It’s a real problem. There’s a huge shortage and the government is trying to figure out how to fill at least some of the gap.
The entire interview can be heard via PRI's The World.
Also see the latest blogpost from Seeing Red in China, which offers a characteristically well-informed synopsis of the practice, its coverage in state media over the years, and the new policies that will effect it.