After years of criticism from international health and human rights groups for its reliance on organs harvested from executed prisoners, China in 2010 launched a pilot program to reform its organ transplant system. The pilot sought the eventual transition to a national voluntary donation system. Last December, the Ministry of Health promised that prisoner organ harvesting would be phased out by January 1, 2015. Now well passed that deadline, The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports that while the controversial practice has been curbed, it still continues under a new definition of terms:
But organs from prisoners, including those on death row, can still be used for transplants in China, with the full backing of policy makers, according to Chinese news reports, as well as doctors and medical researchers in China and abroad. “They just reclassified prisoners as citizens,” said Huige Li, a Chinese-born doctor at the University of Mainz in Germany.
The December announcement by Huang Jiefu, a former deputy health minister and chairman of the National Health and Family Planning Commission’s Human Organ and Transplant Committee, was “an administrative trick,” said Dr. Otmar Kloiber, the World Medical Association secretary general.
The association opposes the use of organs from prisoners in any country that has the death penalty, saying there is no way of knowing if such donations are truly voluntary.
The relabeling of prisoners has enabled Chinese officials to include them in a new, nationwide “citizen donation” system that China is building to reduce its longstanding reliance on organs from prisoners. The move has been described in multiple state reports quoting Dr. Huang and other officials.
[…] Still, China deserves credit for trying to change the system by encouraging more voluntary donations outside prisons, Dr. Kloiber said. “We have to acknowledge they are willing to discuss this,” he said.
Anecdotal evidence from Chinese doctors points to progress, but also suggests continuing problems. [Source]
Shortly after Dr. Huang Jiefu’s “administrative trick” last December, censors ordered media “not to hype the issue.” Read more about organ transplants in China, via CDT.