1. The Issue
“Today, China stands alone in continuing the use of organs of executed prisoners for transplant surgery.”
International organizations such as the World Medical Association and the World Health Organization regard the sale of human organs as inhumane and unethical. These organizations believe it is essential to address all concerns surrounding illicit organ trade and possibly invoke an international trade mandate to which all nations must adhere. Human rights organizations and numerous former Chinese citizens, like Harry Wu, assert that China uses human organs from executed prisoners to sell for substantial profit. The repercussions resulting from the lack of international laws regulating global human organ trade has caused a worldwide upheaval. Human rights issues encircling the illicit human organ trade as well as the effects of this trade in China and globally should be examined and analyzed.
In recent years the rise in demand for organ donation has dramatically increased due to advanced medical technology. The latest technology introduced was a drug helping to control the rejection of the foreign human organ in a patient’s body. This drug, cyclosporine, has revolutionized organ transplantation. It was after the introduction of cyclosporine that China implemented its 1984 rule to allow for organ donation from executed prisoners. Unfortunately, modernization and advancement can facilitate and produce a double-edged phenomenon. The phenomenon related to transplantation is the illicit trade of human organs. The supply of human organs can not meet demands, and as a result, there has been an incredible rise of illegal human organ sales. This section will cover a variety of divergent issues related to human organ trade in China and around the world. I will first discuss the 1984 rule in China regarding human organ donation, and then introduce some of the effects of this ruling.
1984 Rule in China Concerning Organ Donation:
In 1984, China enforced the “Rules Concerning the Utilization of Corpses or Organs for the Corpses of Executed Prisoners.”
The rule provided “that corpses or organs of executed prisoners could be harvested if no one claimed the body, if the executed prisoner volunteered to have his corpse so used, or if the family consented.”
China has zero tolerance for crime. The death penalty is obviously legal in China, but what constitutes a crime punishable by death? Amnesty International researcher, Arlette Leduguie, claims that, “criminals are executed for minimal offenses.”
“In the past years, individuals have been executed for demeanors that would barely justify a custodial sentence elsewhere, pig stealing, or theft, for instance.”
Amnesty International asserts that the Chinese government is performing executions to expand the organ trade from executed prisoners.
According to witnesses in China, criminals are regularly examined to select matches for waiting patients. “One prisoner, during his seven year jail term, told how he saw numerous prisoners being medically prepared for organ removal. On the night before the execution, the prison staff would take blood samples.”
According to David E. Jefferies in his article titled, "The body as a commodity: The use of markets to cure the organ deficit," a Chinese government document explains the procedures used in the extraction of executed prisoners organs generates between 2,000 and 3,000 human organs sold per year out of an estimated 4,500 executed prisoners.
Amnesty International reports that, “China put more than 1,200 individuals to death in 1999.”
These figures translate into an average of over forty people per week.10 The explanation for the elevated number of executed prisoners is directly related to the current Chinese Communist Party leaders' decisions to eliminate crime in China. A South China Morning Post article claims that "The executions come after leading law enforcer Luo Gan urged police to strike hard to smash blackness and wipe out evil."11 The rising criminal activity in China is from higher unemployment rates and inflation due to economic development and reform. The Chinese government wants to extinguish crime before it becomes endemic.
“Throughout the 1990s, China executed more people than the rest of the world combined.”12 Human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Asia are outraged by the alleged human organ donation from China’s executed prisoners. In the article titled, Organ Procurement and Judicial Execution in China, the author states: “If criminal trials should be a matter of public record, the Chinese government should promptly comply with a recent formal request by the United Nations Committee Against Torture that it provide precise statistical data concerning the number of persons sentenced to capital punishment and executed in China. The authorities should also annul forthwith all "internal" directives ordering the secrecy of such statistics.”
The negative repercussions from the reliance on executed prisoners to supply vital organs, exceedingly outweigh the feasible greater good. The greater good is compromised because the issue surrounding organ donation becomes complicated by the high cost obtained from the executed prisoners' valuable organs. The high cost involved has led to executions in China taking place in order to accommodate human organ recipients' needs or desires, not according to the prisoner's family's wishes.
Effects of the 1984 Rule:
The Chinese government fervently denies the existence of this precept, but the government could be the party responsible for the illegal sale of executed prisoners’ organs. Many factors support this claim. The Chinese government’s official stance on this issue is as such; persons trading in human organs will be punished according to Chinese law. This promulgation, though, is convoluted. There is no doubt as to the existence of China’s 1984 rule concerning executed prisoners’ organs, but the official stance issued by the Chinese government is vastly divergent. Which side presents an accurate picture of organ “donation” in China? Chinese doctors interviewed by various medical and human rights groups endorse allegations against the government.
Chinese physicians and witnesses affirm that the Chinese government executes its prisoners by one bullet to the head to mitigate body tissue damage thus saving the valuable organs. Nancy Scheper-Hughes writes about a man of Chinese descent, Mr. Lin, who immigrated to the United States. Mr. Lin elaborates on a visit to a Chinese medical facility stating that, “next to his friend was a wealthy and politically connected professional man who told Mr. Lin that he was waiting for a kidney transplant. The wealthy man knew the kidney would arrive after a prisoner was executed that morning.”
Wealthy individuals in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are able to procure organs at will, for a cost. "But the very idea of organ scarcity has to be questioned. It is an artificially created need invented by transplant technicians and dangled before the eyes of the sick, aging, and dying population. And it is a scarcity that can never under any circumstances be satiated, for underlying the need is the quintessentially human denial and refusal of death." The best possible solution in regards to organ transplantation and donation, might be for humans to deal with the fact that we are all mortal, and this issue crosses most cultural boundaries.
Per year, 300,000 people receive organ transplants worldwide.
The supply does not match the demand, generating a massive global search for possible organ donors. In desperation, many individuals resort to illegal means to obtain an organ for transplantation, such as using black market trade to purchase executed prisoners' organs. As previously mentioned, Amnesty International asserts that more than 4,500 executions occur every year in China. Many researchers argue that executions in China are organized around how to extract of the organs in the most efficient manner. Hence, it is fair to assume that most of these prisoners killed by the death penalty, if not all killed, have their organs removed and sold. The numerous non-Chinese government articles written related to this case, state that the sale of human organs can procure an upwards amount of 30,000 U.S. dollars per organ. In Ms. Scheper-Huges article, she states that individuals from such Middle Eastern countries such as, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates travel to India to obtain human organs, while persons from Asia will procure their organs from China.
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