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Study Reveals How China Kills Living Prisoners for Gruesome Organ Harvesting Trade


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The Hippocratic Oath, whose origin dates back to Ancient Greece, is 2,000 years old and is the moral and ethical text par excellence for medical professionals. This oath establishes a basic principle: “do no harm.” This principle, according to a study by Doctors Matthew P. Robertson and Jacob Lavee, has been systematically violated in China by executing prisoners to remove vital organs, such as their hearts.

In their study “Execution for Organ Procurement: Breach of the Dead Donor Rule in China,” Robertson and Lavee say they found evidence, in articles published in Chinese, that organs were harvested from alive Chinese prisoners by killing them during operations.

Part of the study, a summary of which was published on the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation website.

The study worryingly explains that, at present, China is the second country in the world with the highest number of transplants, only behind the United States, where 39,000 transplants were performed in 2020. However, research indicates that more transplants are carried out in China than officially announced (even above the United States) with much shorter waiting times than anywhere else on the planet.

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“Hospitals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continue to advertise transplant wait times of weeks while in the United States wait times are measured in months and years,” the study reads. “Hospitals continue to advertise organs to transplant tourists with websites in English, Russian and Arabic. Chinese authorities now say they will perform 50,000 transplants by 2023, supposedly all from volunteer donors.”

China does not show real data

The problem is that the opacity of the Chinese authorities means that their information does not meet basic requirements to ensure that these numbers of organs are being procured ethically and with respect for human dignity.

The study, based on data collected from transplant surgeries performed between 1980 and 2015, explains the historical context, that there was never “a voluntary donation system” (as there is now in that country since 2015) and, in addition, that there were “very few voluntary donors”. As a result, international human rights organizations discovered that most of the organ “donors” in China are prisoners of different statuses (death row, political, or simply condemned by the judicial system).

According to Robertson and Lavee, although the donations were evidently obtained from prisoners, the documents they examined said little or “nothing about the identity of the donors and do not identify the donors as prisoners.” 

The most relevant finding of their analysis, based on 120,000 medical publications they examined using keywords and a series of tools to divide them up and make them easier to read, identified descriptions of irregular procedures where Chinese doctors became executioners of alleged “donors.”

The examples set out in the report, detailed in the results section, reveal practices that violate medical ethics by the surgeons who performed the operations, suggesting that these individuals were still alive throughout the procedure.

In total, Robertson and Lavee identified 71 irregular procedures performed in 56 hospitals in 33 cities in 15 Chinese provinces; 348 medical professionals or researchers were involved.

¿China sigue ejecutando a presos para extraerles el corazón y sus órganos? Un estudio sugiere que sí
Screenshot from the study “Execution for organ procurement: Non-compliance with the dead donor rule in China.”

Is China still harvesting organs and hearts from living prisoners?

For several years now, international organizations, such as Amnesty International, have been denouncing China for its controversial organ transplant system that has become an almost tourist attraction for foreigners in need of organs in short periods of time. The serious accusations put the Asian giant against a rock and a hard place and, as a result, in 2015, the authorities banned the use of organs from executed prisoners by creating a system of voluntary donations.

From there on, Chinese surgeons improved their reputation with their international counterparts and the Chinese organ transplant system started to become much more accepted worldwide.

However, Robertson and Lavee point out that this is a problem because the international community has never taken it upon itself to verify China’s word, blindly trusting that the legal prohibition is enough to reduce a practice that violates human dignity and the most basic internationally accepted medical standards. 

“The international transplant community seems satisfied with the PRC’s progress and is unconcerned by the apparent falsification of official data,” the study reads. “Although more voluntary donations are occurring in China than ever before, there is still no reliable data on the true magnitude of the reforms. It is also unclear whether, and to what extent, death row inmates and prisoners of conscience are still being used as organ sources.” 

“Given the lack of sanctions and accountability for organ procurement in the past, the strong financial incentives to continue such activity, and the difficulty for outside observers to detect it, it is unclear why Chinese hospitals would stop to participate in this lucrative trade”, added the doctors, who also denounced that, after the prohibition of the use of organs from executed prisoners, they stopped publishing medical articles such as those they analyzed for their study and which had been published for decades.  

“The most recent medical article we found was published in 2015. There are several possible explanations for this,” the doctors explain. “The most benign is that the reform program effectively stopped using prisoners and therefore these abuses stopped. Another possibility is that it is because grassroots human rights activists and researchers brought violations to light in September 2014, and that PRC officials are attentive to international perceptions.” 

The study notes the possibility “that state-run medical journals have been instructed to stop publishing such details, and this could explain the absence of such admissions last 2015.”