China Accused of Forcibly Removing Organs from Prisoners of Conscience to Harvest for Transplants

A new WSJ opinion piece highlights what can only be described as horrifying allegations being made against China: that the country harvests human organs for transplants from prisoners of conscience. 

Noting that the practice is admittedly "difficult to prove" because the bodies of victims are only seen by doctors, police and prison guards, the opinion piece lays out evidence that it claims supports the unconscionable allegation. Falun Gong members, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and “underground” Christians are all said to have been subjected to medical testing and having their organs forcibly removed in order to feed the trade of organ transplants in the country.

The piece offers several examples that demonstrate an unusually plentiful supply of organs in the country. Former Canadian politician and prosecutor David Kilgour, lawyer David Matas, American journalist Ethan Gutmann and a team of researchers all posed as patients in need of transplants to Chinese hospitals. They were promised matching organs within days.

At one point, China’s former vice minister for health and chairman of its organ-transplant committee ordered two livers as backups for an operation in 2005 and they were delivered the next morning. In the West, patients and doctors often wait months or years for transplants. 

The same researchers also published a report in 2016 claiming that between 60,000 and 100,000 organs were transplanted each year in China. That prompts the obvious question: where are the organs coming from? The state claims it has the “largest voluntary organ donation system in Asia” and that it stopped using prisoners for organ harvest in 2015. 

This contrasts - in a big way - with available data. For instance, in 2010, the country's official number of voluntary donors was 34. In 2018, that number was about 6,000 donors, who are said to have donated more than 18,000 organs. The research produced by the aforementioned group found that this number was "easily surpassed" by just a few hospitals in China. For instance, Tianjin First Center does more than 6,000 transplants a year on its own.

It's obvious the numbers don't add up. There needs to be an additional, involuntary source of organs, the opinion piece claims, and these investigators concluded that prisoners of conscience are the likely source. Prisoners of conscience have, in the past, claimed that they have been subjected to blood tests and unusual medical examinations in prison. The report claims that these test results were added to a database of living sources of organs, which was used to enable transplants on demand. 

Members the Falun Gong spiritual movement, for instance, have been persecuted in China since 1999. When investigators posed as organ buyers in 2006 and asked specifically if they could buy organs from Falun Gong practitioners, they were told it was "no problem".

Dr. Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from Xinjiang, also testified to removing organs forcibly from a prisoner in 1995: “We had been told to wait behind a hill, and come into the field as soon as we’d hear the gunshot. A moment later there were gunshots. Not one, but many. We rushed into the field. An armed police officer approached us and told me where to go. He led us closer, then pointed to a body, saying, ‘This is the one.’ By then our chief surgeon appeared from nowhere and told me to remove the liver and two kidneys.”

Tohti claims he did as he was told, removing the kidneys and liver, despite the fact that "the man's heart was still beating".