It is said that the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Of course, this begs the question: recovery from which problem? Whatever the impetus for these changes, China has finally admitted to taking the organs of executed prisoners. Does this mean an end of the free-flow, all-you-can-afford, buffet-bonanza on the virile organs of hapless young peasants executed under one of China’s 70 capital crimes?
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Speaking at a conference of surgeons in the southern city of Guangzhou, Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu called for a strict code of conduct and better record-keeping to stem China’s thriving illegal organ trade, state media reported.
“Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners,” Huang said Tuesday, according to a report Thursday in the English-language China Daily newspaper.
“The current big shortfall of organ donations can’t meet demand,” Huang said.
The acknowledgment of what had been an open secret online, in local magazines and among people awaiting transplants came about two weeks after China announced it would tighten oversight of capital cases, requiring that death sentences be approved by the country’s highest court. Legal experts estimate that will reduce executions by a third.
Though China doesn’t disclose the number of annual executions, Amnesty International says at least 1,770 people were put to death in 2005, based on a review of Chinese media reports. Some activists say the annual figure could be as high as 10,000.
The lower estimate represents more than 80% of at least 2,148 that Amnesty International says took place worldwide last year. The United States executed 60 prisoners.
In July, China ruled that all sales of organs were illegal. But enforcing its decrees can be a problem, especially when substantial profits are involved.
In September 2004, local media reported that well-known comedian Fu Biao spent more than $36,000 for a liver from an executed prisoner in Shandong province. And starting in June 2005, reports surfaced on the Internet of retinas and kidneys taken from executed gang members without their consent in Henan province near Beijing.
Americans are among the foreigners who have headed to China for transplants as the waiting time for kidneys and livers has grown in the United States. U.S. transplant doctors say the majority seem to be patients of Chinese ancestry who feel comfortable navigating the medical system here.
It is disturbing that Mr. Huang speaks about organ trafficking in terms of supply and demand and of implementing a “strict code of conduct and better record-keeping” when he is talking about a system that provides incentives for issuing death sentences and executing prisoners. However, while there is good reason to be cynical about the motives and efficacy of any changes, it is somewhat encouraging that China is beginning to engage the public on these issues and work to end this degrading and murderous industry.