China’s Organ Trade: Your Kidney for an iPad?

There’s been a lot of talk about organs lately. And no, I don’t mean the ones in churches. Instead I mean the ones inside your body. More specifically, I mean the organs inside the poor and criminally convicted in Mainland China.

Late last week Huang Jiefu, China’s vice minister of health, said the nation plans to phase out the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners over the next 3-5 years:

“The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government,” Xinhua quoted Huang as saying. (Source: Fox News)

That means the 5,000 to 10,000 put to death each year will not undergo surgery immediately after death to harvest their organs. (Note: Exact execution rates are considered a state secret; the range published is from The Dui Hua Foundation.)

Apparently China respects the rights of prisoners on death row and harvests organs only from those who sign a consent.

Voluntary donations of organs are low – from the deceased and the living. Estimates show up to 1.5 million people needing transplants, while only 10,000 receive them.

In the absence of prisoners, those in need of organs may have to turn to the destitute. In today’s South China Morning Post reporter Zhuang Pinghui (Email: reports that the extremely poor are turning to paid donations of kidneys to raise funds. One received RMB20,000 (us$3,171). He used it to pay off debts. And buy an iPad.

Globally rates of organ donation fall far below the numbers required. In many countries organ donation requests are linked to drivers licenses. Yet even then families can revoke the wishes of the recently deceased. China is unique in its wholesale harvesting of organs from executed prisoners.

The promise to scale down and end that practice is welcome news. The reports that the poor are being paid for organs is alarming. But that’s the Yin and Yang of China – just when you gain hope you hear something disappointing. For the families of the executed prisoners, maybe the Yin is all they need.

China - Good and Bad, Happy and Sad - Yin and Yang

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