Fewer than five years after China said it had finally ended the controversial practice of involuntary organ "donations", research published this week found a disturbing pattern in the data on organ transplants that China submits to international regulators, according to the Guardian.
The research found that the Chinese government may have been "systematically falsifying" its organ donation numbers, raising renewed concerns over whether Beijing is still using executed prisoners and other forced donors for transplants for wealthy Chinese.
In 2015, China publicly promised it would no longer source organs from executed prisoners, who previously provided most of the transplanted organs in China.
But a study led by Australian National University PhD student Matthew Robertson that was published in the BMC Medical Ethics journal on Friday claims Chinese-government supplied datasets on organ donations show "highly compelling evidence they are being falsified."
Using statistical forensics on the datasets, researchers found the numbers of organs reportedly transplanted almost perfectly matched the quadratic formula.
"When you take a close look at the numbers of organs apparently collected they almost match this artificial equation point for point, year in, year out. They’re too neat to be true,” Robertson said.
"These figures don’t appear to be real data from real donations. They’re numbers generated using an equation. It is difficult to imagine how this model could have been arrived at by mere chance, raising the distinct possibility that it was intended to deceive."
The paper continued by arguing that China’s organ transplant industry was too opaque, and that the sources of organs has always been difficult to trace, which doesn't exactly instill confidence. Though the system has been reformed to a degree, it's still masking the source of some organs.
“Rather than the solely prisoner-based organ transplant system of years past, or the untarnished voluntary system promised by officials, the available evidence indicates in our view that China has a complex hybrid transplant program: voluntary donations, incentivized by large cash payments, are apparently used alongside nonvoluntary donors who are marked down as citizen donors.”
The study examined voluntary hospital-based donated organs between 2010 and 2018 using data provided by two Chinese sources, the China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS), which forms the basis of China’s current voluntary organ donation system, and the Red Cross Society.
Every organ transplant is supposed to be reported through this system, along with details about where the organs came from. The Red Cross Society of China is required to verify every organ donation. So, comparing the two databases and looking at inconsistencies could off some insight.
None of this data is typically publicly available, but once in a while it leaks out. COTRS data were published in 2014 and in 2017. Data from the Red Cross Society of China was previously available on four websites, three of which have recently been taken offline.
For decades, Beijing was accused of harvesting organs from minority groups, including religious minorities. A tribunal held back in June found Beijing found that Falun Gong practitioners were the main source of organs for decades. But it also said that Uighurs were undergoing medical testing on a scale that could allow them to become an "organ bank."
And as Beijing continues to build out its massive prison camps in Xinjiang, this type of research will be critical for holding Beijing accountable so it doesn't continue to build networks of human organ banks with impunity.