The Organ Trade In China

Organ trafficking in China remains as widespread as ever. Despite the authority’s attempts to crack down on the illegal organ trade, kidneys are being brazenly sold online in many cities across the nation. In an attempt to limit the amount of human organs sold online, the Chinese Government has launched an organ donation program, but the program has failed to adequately attract donors.

China is rated among the lowest in organ donation rates in the world, and people in the country are turning in desperation to illegal organ trading websites. The demand for organ transplants is rising in China, and with supply slow to follow, the black market is the only alternative for some gravely ill patients. Selling organs in China has become quite easy and lucrative for willing participants.

One black market website is full of advertisements by organ brokers, with contact numbers openly displayed. The advertisements promise safe surgeries and a fast payout. All that’s required to initiate the process is a phone number or other contact information.

The Problem

In China as many as 1.5 million people are in need of organ transplants, but only about 10,000 receive them every year. Sadly it’s reported that 4 out of 5 patients in need of transplants die while waiting for a compatible donor. Added to that, only a few Chinese citizens agree to donate their much needed organs upon death, widening the gap between supply and demand.

Noted Professor Zhai Xiaomei from the Chinese Academy of Medical Science say it’s because of this widening abyss between supply and demand that the illegal organ trade still flourishes.

In the year 2007, China forbade transplanting organs from living donors with the exception of close relatives, spouses, adopted and step family members. With less organs qualified for transplant and an increasing amount of patients in need, the problem has only worsened.

Illegal traffickers of organs have stepped their game up in order to fill the void. A newspaper in Guangzhou, the Southern Weekend told the story of a worker from Hunan province that decided to sell his kidney in Shanxi province in order to pay his debts.

However, Hu had a change of heart before surgery, but found his ID, mobile phone and other belongings missing. The traffickers then informed him that he was not allowed to leave the city until he had proceeded with the surgery. This story blew the lid off of an illegal network of black market organ traders.

Zheng Xiaojun claims “The illegal trade is widespread in China. There’s a growing demand…so there’s a vast underground market for organ trafficking in China, acting as a mediator between the seekers and donors of organs”.

Corrupt Doctors


Zhai Xiaomei has pointed out that these illegal surgeries could not be performed without the help of corrupt doctors who profit from allowing questionable transplants. Xiaomei has accused the brokers of lying about the relationships between recipients and donors, as the law allows donation between close relatives. She goes on to claim than many doctors look the other way in exchange for a cut of the profits.


Lax Punishments and Loopholes

Lack of proper regulations and legal loopholes make organ trafficking easier, according to the Procuratorial Daily. The 2007 Regulation to control organ trafficking requires punishment for employees of medical institutes, but for those buying and selling organs the punishment is too lax. Many of the donors use fake ID’s to pose as relatives of the recipients. The Health Ministry announced that it would crackdown on medical facilities that are found to be performing transplants without the legal qualifications, imposing hefty fines, and requiring hospitals to proceed with institutional overhaul or risk shut-downs. Medical staff found guilty of breaking laws will be stripped of their licenses, and officials will be held legally responsible.

China’s government is also attempting to alleviate the organ shortage. In 2008, a registry for liver transplants was established in Shanghai. In 2009, China launched a system to coordinate post death donations, starting with a prototype program that started in 10 provinces and cities which encouraged post-death organ donations as well as starting a fund for those in need and to the families of donors.

Yet, despite these ongoing efforts, the China Daily reported that in 2009, 65% of all organs came from prisoners that had been executed.

Chinese citizens are encouraged to become organ donors, and can opt in when they receive driver’s licenses and ID cards. Critics doubt that the driver’s license program will work as most Chinese citizens believe they would be cursed if they consent to donate their organs.

The latest numbers regarding transplants are a major blow to China, which has been criticized for its reputation of using the organs of executed prisoners as the main source for transplants. The claim has been recently acknowledged by Huang Jiefu, the vice Health Minister during a recent interview by state media. Professor Zhai says the government now realizes it must find other solutions. The problem with using the organs of condemned prisoners is that there will always be questions about whether the organs were donated voluntarily.

Slow Progress

The head of the Red Cross in the city of Shenzhen, Zhao Lizen, helped to start up the nation’s first donation office a year ago. She has stated that promoting organ donation is not an easy job in a country where people still cling onto traditional values. The act of cremation is just now becoming acceptable in China, and request for people to become donors has been met mostly with rejection.

Dr. Daniel Wikler of the Harvard School of Public Health works with countries such as China on developing solutions. In Wikler’s opinion a multifaceted national campaign is needed to promote organ donation.

It is a vexing task, but Zhai Xiaomei insists that the government must step up to the challenge, as to do nothing will encourage crime, even murder, to acquire organs; and the gap between the rich and poor will only increase.



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