Thursday, April 20, 2006

China's Organ Trade

My brother's business is spreading violence among schoolchildren all over North Texas. (Did I say violence? I meant violins.) He imports the instruments from the People's Republic of China.

China's violin trade, however, is quite different from its organ trade. It's the latter that has been the subject of scrutiny by doctors and human rights activists.

The British Transplantation Society has issued a report condemning China for the sale of human organs taken from the bodies of executed prisoners according to The Guardian. A statement [Word document] issued by the organization of surgeons said 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."

Transplants in China, said to range in cost from $62,000 for a kidney to $140,000 for a heart, are apparently attracting Japanese, Korean, and Chinese-American patients unable or unwilling to wait for organ donations. The China International Transplantation Network Assistance Center advertises services geared toward foreign patients with an English-language web site that states, "Viscera providers can be found immediately!"

Moisés Naím's Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy addresses the trade in human organs in the context of trafficking in "niche" products such as art works, endangered species, and hazardous wastes. On the organ trade in China, Naím writes,

Prisoners have been used for organ supply under dictatorships at various times in Argentina, Brazil, and Taiwan. Today the Chinese prison system is a major supplier of organs for both the domestic and international market. On Hainan Island an intermediary offered a bulk deal to the activist Harry Wu, who was working undercover: fifty prisoners' organs over a year, at prices ranging from $5,000 for a pair of corneas to $25,000 for a liver. In another case, a doctor reported witnessing both kidneys being extracted from a still-living prisoner due to be executed the next morning. The proceeds of prison organ harvesting go to the authorities. Some researchers suspect that the lucrative organs market is one additional reason that China has broadened the range of capital offenses: more executions mean more profit. (p. 162)

Incidentally, President Bush hosted President Hu Jintao of China at the White House today.