Report: Chinese doctors executed prisoners for their organs

Shocking allegations about Chinese organ donation have been made in a leading medical journal, the American Journal of Transplantation. An Australian researcher and an Israeli transplant surgeon claim that “physicians in the People’s Republic of China have participated in executions by organ removal”.

Mathew Robertson, of the Australian National University in Canberra, and Professor Jacob Lavee, of Tel Aviv University, scanned 2,838 papers drawn from a dataset of 124,770 Chinese-language transplant publications from 1980 to 2015. In 71 of these, from medical centres around the country, they found evidence that brain death had not been properly declared and that “the removal of the heart during organ procurement must have been the proximate cause of the donor’s death”.

In other words, doctors trained to save lives, doctors whose creed is “do no harm”, stood in as executioners for the Chinese government so that so that they could harvest organs from prisoners. Who were the prisoners? We don’t know, but they could have been murderers and rapists. Or they could have been Falun Gong supporters, Uyghurs, or political dissidents.

Although this atrocity is impossible to prove definitively because of the secrecy surrounding most government statistics in China, activists have accumulated mountains of indirect evidence. Two Canadians, David Matas and the late David Kilgour, wrote Bloody Harvest in 2007. An American researcher, Ethan Gutmann, wrote  The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem in 2014. In 2019 the China Tribunal, an independent investigation into these allegations, released yet another report in the form of a legal ruling. It concluded that:

“The Tribunal’s members are certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt – that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.”

The article in the American Journal of Transplantation, then, is further confirmation of years of rumours and scholarly reports.

“There were two criteria by which we claimed a problematic brain death declaration,” Robertson, who translated the Chinese papers, told WebMD News. “One was where the patient was not ventilated and was only intubated after they were declared brain dead, the other was that the intubation took place immediately prior to the surgery beginning.”

This damning assertion has been flatly denied by Chinese authorities. “While some anti-China forces fabricate and spread rumours on China’s organ transplantation, their true, malicious intentions are becoming increasingly clear to and rejected by the international community,” the Chinese embassy in Israel told the newspaper Haaretz.

The authors have produced no evidence from eyewitnesses, but they discovered that the authors of these 71 papers unwittingly disclosed, albeit indirectly, that they had ignored the dead donor rule when removing hearts and lungs from the donors. And since most of the donors between 1980 and 2015 were prisoners, this implies that the transplant operation must have been the means of executing them.

“Transplanting organs from a person who has been executed, is brain dead and whose heart is still beating, requires complex and delicate coordination between the executioners and the doctors salvaging the organ,” Lavee told Haaretz. “The papers analysed in the study show that Chinese physicians have essentially joined the execution procedure to avoid losing the organ due to a lack of coordination.”

In 2015 China agreed to stop using prisoners for transplant operations and declared that it would rely upon voluntary donations. However, the number of organs available for transplant never stopped growing. Next year the Chinese have predicted that there will be 50,000 transplants, all from voluntary donors, with waiting times in weeks or even days. In the West, waiting times are months or years.

There are credible allegations that Uighur prisoners, Falun Gong prisoners, and other prisoners have been “organ donors”. Is this continuing? The authors of the paper believe that it is:

“While more voluntary donations are taking place in China than ever before, there are as yet no reliable data on the true scale of the reforms. It is also unclear whether and to what degree death row prisoners and prisoners of conscience are still being utilized as organ sources. Given the lack of sanctions and accountability for procurement of prisoner organs in the past, the strong financial incentives to continue such activity, and the difficulty of external observers of detecting it, it is unclear why Chinese hospitals would cease engaging in this profitable trade.

Dr Lavee told Haaretz that the participation of doctors in executions is a crime against humanity:

“As the son of a Holocaust survivor who was in a Nazi concentration camp, I cannot stand aside and remain silent when my professional colleagues, Chinese transplant surgeons, have for years been partners to a crime against humanity by cooperating with the authorities and serving as the operational arm for mass executions,” he says.

China is doing its best to divert attention from these allegations. On the annual celebration of Tomb Sweeping Day in Chongqing, a city of 31 million in central China, China Daily recently reported that “Organ donation and transplantation have been gaining steam in China in recent years, with data from the China Organ Donation Administrative Center showing that more than 4.62 million people have signed up for organ donation”.

At an event attended by families of organ donors, recipients, and coordinators, one man expressed his gratitude: "It was after hearing that one life was saved because of my father's donation that I realized the greatness of his heart and the true meaning of life. It feels like his life was extended in another way. He never actually left me."

There are two very different explanations for China’s booming organ transplant industry. Which is correct?


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