11/16/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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China officially admits executed prisoners are the basis of organ trafficking

Health authorities acknowledge the problem for the first time. They also recognise the existence of an organ black market but deny public officials are involved, blaming instead surgeons, who in turn, refute such allegations.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's government has admitted that an illegal traffic in human organs for transplant actually exists, but blamed it on the work of rogue surgeons. For this reason, it has called on the members of the profession to adhere to a "code of conduct".

Addressing a conference of surgeons in Guangzhou yesterday, Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu acknowledged that most organs harvested come from executed prisoners. He insisted that informed consent must inform organ harvesting, that donation be voluntary and done with the consent of donors or their families.

"The harvesting, distribution and use of organs must be closely tracked under responsible supervision by related administrations," Mr Huang said.

"Under-the-table business must be banned," Mr Huang said cognizant that too often organs come from non consenting parties and are sold for high fees to foreigners.

He added that the authorities would set up an information network that would register and keep track of all human organ donations. For some time now relatives of executed prisoners have accused the authorities of harvesting organs from dead prisoners without their consent or respect for rules with the complicity of prison officials.

China executes anywhere between two and ten thousands prisoners, the highest number in the world. And families have complained that the bodies of their executed relatives are not handed over.

Human right groups have said some mainland hospitals have traded organs to patients in other countries, and foreign patients disguised as tourists have come to the mainland for transplants using organs from prisoners or other donors who had not given their informed consent.

In response to the charges the Health Ministry issued an Interim Regulations on Human Organ Transplant Clinic Application Administration in March. These allow only top hospitals with qualified doctors, equipment and technical facilities to provide organ transplant surgery and ban organ trading and unwilling donation.

Although the regulations took effect in July, they have not had any effective influence, this according to organ transplant professionals. Still, this is the first time the authorities officially acknowledge the existence of a black market in transplant organs from executed prisoners.

Surgeons responded immediately to a request by the Health Minister to abide by the ethical regulation of human organ transplants. This means that the responsibility falls on their shoulders.

The code of conduct insists on the obligation for everyone in the medical profession to respect the law and the ethical principles of medicine and thus not participate in the harvesting and trading in organs without the written consent of the donor.

About 600 surgeons gathered in Guangzhou agreed not to be involved in any organ trading or provide transplant services to foreign patients visiting as tourists, and that they would abide by the law and respect ethical rules. (PB)

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