09/28/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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"Thriving" sale of organs from Chinese convicts

In an undercover investigation, a BBC correspondent visited a hospital in Tianjin, where he was told he could get a new liver at the cost of something less than 95,000 US dollars. The chief surgeon confirmed that one of the China's many executed convicts would be the "donor": death row inmates offer their organs "as a gift to society".

Tianjin (AsiaNews/BBC) –The flourishing sale of organs from Chinese death row inmates has been confirmed by an undercover investigation conducted by a BBC correspondent. The organs, taken from the bodies of executed prisoners, are largely sold to foreigners who need a transplant.

The practice is not illegal in the country but at the beginning of the year, the Health Ministry launched a series of new rules to "stop abuses" related to the transplant industry. The English journalist went to a hospital in Tianjin, which said it could provide a liver at a cost of something less than US$ 95,000. The chief surgeon confirmed an executed prisoner could be the "donor".

Many Chinese transplant centres offer quick organ transplants on websites. The waiting period for kidneys is one-to-four weeks. "Suppliers of bowels," says one site. The cost of a kidney transplant is US$ 62,000, a heart transplant is US$ 140,000.

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes visited No 1 Central Hospital in Tianjin, ostensibly seeking a liver for his sick father. Officials assured him a matching liver could be available in three weeks. One hospital official said that the prisoners "volunteered" to give their organs as a "present to society". He said there was currently an organ surplus because of an increase in executions ahead of the 1 October National Day.

China executes more prisoners than any other country in the world. In 2005, at least 1,770 people were executed, although a report by Amnesty International claimed this was "much less than the true figures".

In March, China's foreign ministry admitted that organs from prisoners were used, but said this was only in "a very few cases". Spokesman Qin Gang said the organs were not taken forcibly, but only with the express permission of the convict. The English correspondent said it was unclear how true this claim was. In April 2006, top British transplant surgeons condemned the practice as "unacceptable and a breach of human rights".

Tianijn's No. 1 Central Hospital carried out 600 liver transplants last year and the organ transplant industry has become big business: China ranks second worldwide in numbers of organ transplants carried out. Every year, doctors undertake between 7,000 and 8,000 operations, especially on rich people coming from Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.

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