04/20/2006, 00.00
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Transplant organs removed without executed prisoners' consent

British group charges doctors and authorities are involved in the lucrative business. Many are concerned that demand for organs leads to executions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The British Transplantation Society (BTS) announced yesterday that an "accumulating body of evidence suggests that the organs of executed prisoners are being removed for transplantation without the prior consent of either the prisoner or their family." The situation is such that China has become the main supplier of transplant organs, involving transplant centres, patients, and the authorities and judiciary responsible for the prisoners in a very lucrative business.

For Stephen Wigmore, chairman of the BTS Ethics Committee, "any activity that transgresses an individual's human rights or involves the coercion of an individual to become an organ donor" must be condemned. "The alleged use of organs from executed prisoners without consent [for financial gain] is [. . .] a breach of human rights and is an unacceptable practice."

Dr Wigmore and his colleagues, he added, had all seen cases of British patients who had considered going to China for transplants. The same is true for patients from Japan and South Korea as well as Chinese-Americans.

All one need is to go online. Many Chinese transplant centres are in fact offering quick organ transplants on their websites. The waiting period for kidneys is one-to-four weeks, but for bowels it is nil as long as one has US$ 62,000.  Need a heart? One is available for US$ 140,000. For Dr Wigmore, the speed of matching donors and patients suggests that prisoners are being "selected before execution".

And the reason is simple: demand. In the United Kingdom for example, one in five people has signed a donor card authorising organ removal in case of death for a potential donor pool of 13 million people. Yet, organs remain in short supply. Every year, less than 3,000 of the more 8,000 patients in need get a transplant. About 6,000 people need a new kidney.

Charges against China are not new. Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have repeatedly said that prisoners from a labour camp near Shenyang, where a transplant centre is located, are executed whenever requests for organs are made.

Relatives who try to ask for the bodies of executed Falun Gong members are beaten or arrested since their movement is illegal. Instead, bodies are usually cremated. Moreover, under 1984 regulations, a prisoner's organs can be used without any prior consent if no one makes a claim for the remains.

In September of last year, the press reported that a Chinese cosmetic company was using skin from dead prisoners for beauty products sold in Europe.

Chinese Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu acknowledged that most liver transplants relied on organs from prisoners in remarks he made at the International Conference on Liver Transplants in July 2005.

According to official figures, some 60,000 kidney transplants, 6,000 liver transplants and 250 heart transplants have been performed in China since 1993.

Partly irked by criticism, Chinese authorities announced in March a ban on the sale of human organs, starting next July. Under new rules, donors must give written consent and transplant operations can only be performed in a few designated centres.

Despite the ease with which transplant operations are carried out in China, they do not however guarantee success. Official data show that the one-year survival rate for a liver transplant in China is about fifty per cent compared to 81 per cent in The United States, this according to Shen Zhongyang, director of the Tianjin Oriental Organ Transplant Center.(PB)

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