Despite growing surgical prowess and improved immunosuppressant drugs, organ donor waiting lists nearly everywhere grow longer year by year. There are 92,000 Americans in the queue, and 18 reportedly die every day because of a shortage of donated organs.1 The pressure is so great that doctors are turning to “second-best” solutions to meet rising demand. Some surgeons are accepting livers from older people, livers with fat, and livers from donors on blood-pressure drugs. A lot of research is going into xeno-transplantation — using organs from specially-bred animals like pigs.
But in China, transplants are booming. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an American who had been removed from the US waiting list because he had liver cancer and nine tumours recently found a liver in Shanghai within two weeks — for US$110,000.2
Where are the organs coming from? Generous donors? Nope. The Chinese have a strong cultural bias against organ donation — only about 0.6 per cent of transplanted kidneys in China between 1971 and 2001 came from family donors. The main source has been executed prisoners. According to the US State Department, “the main source [of organ donations] is voluntary donations from condemned prisoners” — but there are serious questions about whether the donations were truly voluntary. Australian transplant surgeon Daryl Wall says that “We understand in international transplant associations that the expansion of capital punishment has contributed significantly to the rate of organ donation in mainland China”.3
But now a detailed report alleges that something even worse is happening, something straight from a B-grade Hollywood thriller: that Chinese authorities are exploiting a better resource — the bodies of imprisoned Falun Gong supporters, prized by doctors because they follow a healthy regime of eating and exercise. These allegations do not come from the Falun Gong, but from two respected Canadian human rights activists who have documented them in a 60-page report.4
Former cabinet minister David Kilgour and a respected human rights lawyer, David Matas, spent two months investigating the startling claims. “The allegations, if true, would represent a grotesque form of evil which, despite all the depravations humanity has seen, would be new to this planet,” they say.
Falun Gong blends aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and the meditation techniques and physical exercises. It was founded by a man named Li Hongzhi in 1992 but it has deep roots in Chinese culture. Despite the spiritual content of some of Li’s teachings, Falun Gong does not consider itself a religion and has no clergy or places of worship. It satisfied a hunger for spirituality after decades of state-imposed atheism. By 1999 it became obvious that the number of adherents had swollen into millions — perhaps as many as 60 or 70 million. In April 16,000 of them gathered for a peaceful protest outside Communist Party headquarters in Beijing. Amazed at the Falun Gong’s powers of organisation and fearful of a rival to its ideological monopoly, the government cracked down swiftly and with great severity.
According to Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, since 1999 more than 100,000 practitioners have been detained, with many tortured and killed. Some foreign observers, according to the US State Department’s 2005 report on international religious freedom5 , estimate that at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in the country’s re-education-through-labour camps are Falun Gong adherents. Many of these may have refused to identify themselves for fear of incriminating their families and have thus disappeared into the prison system without a trace. “This population is a remarkably undefended group of people, even by Chinese standards,” observes the report.
Kilgour and Matas acknowledge that they have no eyewitness evidence that Falun Gong prisoners are being used as organ farms. But from interviews and careful analysis of publicly available information, they conclude that thousands of people must have been murdered. Since 1999 — the year of the crack-down — organ transplants have soared. Kilgour and Matas calculate that there were about 41,500 organ donors in that period who were not executed common criminals or voluntary donors. They believe that these were probably Falun Gong supporters.
One of their informants was the divorced wife of a transplant surgeon who, she claimed, had removed the corneas of 2,000 Falun Gong supporters in two years. The victims were first given an injection to cause heart failure and their bodies were then cremated. Kilgour and Matas also produced translated transcripts of conversations with jails whose officials claimed that they could produce good quality organs quickly. Chinese hospitals often advertise on their websites that they can supply suitable organs to foreign patients in as little as one or two weeks.
They produced several transcripts of conversations with hospitals. Investigators rang and feigned an interest in obtaining a transplant. This is an excerpt from a conversation with Nanning City Minzu Hospital in the Guangxi Autonomous Region on May 22:
Caller: “…Could you find organs from Falun Gong practitioners?”
Hospital: “Let me tell you, we have no way to get (them). It’s rather difficult to get it now in Guangxi. If you cannot wait, I suggest you go to Guangzhou because it’s very easy for them to get the organs. They are able to look for (them) nation wide. As they are performing the liver transplant, they can get the kidney for you at the same time, so it’s very easy for them to do. Many places where supplies are short go to them for help…”
Caller: “Why is it easy for them to get?”
Hospital: “Because they are an important institution. They contact the (judicial) system in the name of the whole university.”
Caller: “Then they use organs from Falun Gong practitioners?”
Caller: “…what you used before (organs from Falun Gong practitioners), was it from detention centre(s) or prison(s)?”
Hospital: “From prisons.”
Caller: “…and it was from healthy Falun Gong practitioners…?”
Hospital: “Correct. We would choose the good ones because we assure the quality in our operation.”
Kilgour and Matas point out that the median waiting time in Canada was 32.5 months in 2003. “The astonishingly short waiting times advertised for perfectly-matched organs would suggest the existence of both a computer matching system for transplants and a large bank of live prospective ‘donors’.”
The Canadians are not the only foreigners who believe that organs are being harvested from Falun Gong supporters. Edward McMillan-Scott, a Briton who is vice-president of the European Parliament, supports the claims.
“Organ harvesting is now a very systematic process in China… [he told Belgian TV]. A friend of mine in Hong Kong said that a friend of his needed a new liver. He called a hospital in Shenzen and they told him: ‘Come right over, we’ll find you one.’… What the [hospital] administrators are saying is ‘Yes, be assured it’ll be a Falun Gong liver or kidney.’ And the reason they say that is because they’re clean: Falun Gong don’t smoke tobacco or drink alcohol, and they live a rather sort of clean life. And therefore they have a sort of premium, and it’s a ghastly reward for a healthy lifestyle that they’re going to be singled out…” 6
The Chinese government is on an ethical slippery slope which began with capital punishment, the two Canadians claim. “When the state kills defenceless human beings already in detention for their crimes, it becomes all too easy to take the next step, harvesting their organs without their consent. This is a step China undoubtedly took. When the state harvests the organs of executed prisoners without their consent, it is another step that becomes all too easy and tempting to take to harvest the organs of other vilified, depersonalised, defenceless prisoners without their consent, especially when there is big money to be made from it.”
Kilgour and Matas recommend that Chinese transplant surgeons be banned from entering Canada and other countries and that all governments should discourage their nationals from travelling to China for transplant operations.
The Chinese embassy in Canada has vigorously denied all allegations made by the report and accused Kilgour and Matas of smearing China. It insists that China has banned the sale of organs and has always obtained informed consent for any organ transplants. In fact, as of July 1, the purchase and sale of human organs has been banned and only top-quality hospitals will be allowed to do transplants. But this only proves that organ transplantation was lawless and unregulated before July 1. In any case, as the Chinese proverb has it, the mountains are high and the emperor is far away. If Falun Gong members are being used as organ farms now, it is unlikely that this highly lucrative practice will cease because of a press release from Beijing.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
(1) United Network for Organ Sharing.
(2) “Patients seeking transplants turn to China.” San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 2006
(3) “Report alleges Chinese Govt harvesting body organs of political prisoners”. ABC on-line. July 10, 2006
(4) David Matas and David Kilgour. “Report into allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China”. July 6, 2006.
(5) International Religious Freedom Report 2005
(6) Interview with Belgian National Flemish TV (VRT)