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China Pledges to Stop Harvesting Organs from Executed Prisoners

On March 23, 2012, government officials in China said they plan to stop harvesting organs from the thousands of prisoners who are executed each year. However, many doubt the practice will entirely cease because the need for organs is too great.

“It’s not clear to me the government is going to have the political will to fulfill this promise,” said Nicholas Bequelin with Human Rights Watch.

According to the government-run news agency Xinhua, China will end its reliance on death row prisoners – who account for almost two-thirds of the country’s transplant organs – within the next three to five years. [See: PLN, Sept. 2009, p.35; Jan. 2008, p.16].

Health ministry figures show that 1.5 million Chinese citizens need organ transplants, although only 10,000 are performed annually. Prevailing religious and cultural beliefs in China dictate that people be buried whole after their death, thus organ donations are few.
Due to the dire need for organs, according to human rights groups, death row prisoners are pressured to donate their organs. Concerns have also been raised that condemned prisoners or their families have not given informed consent for organ donations.

But China’s vice minister of health, Huang Jiefu, insisted that the country is committed to a new national organ donation program. “The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government,” Mr. Huang told Xinhua.
Infections from organs donated by executed prisoners frequently run high, he added, and the general reluctance of Chinese citizens to donate organs has led to a booming black market. To curb illegal organ trafficking, the Red Cross Society of China has suggested giving financial assistance to the families of deceased organ donors.

The Dui Hau Foundation, a human rights group, estimated that China executed approximately 4,000 people in 2011, which constitutes a large potential market for donated organs. There are no official government statistics on the number of people who are put to death or the number of executed prisoners whose organs are harvested.

Sources: BBC News, New York Times, Washington Post

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