"We cautiously welcome this move, but our position on the use of organs from executed prisoners remains the same. Given the coercive nature of the death penalty there will be few, if any, circumstances under which a prisoner facing imminent execution will be able voluntarily to give free and informed consent to having their organs extracted," Saria Rees-Roberts, spokesperson for Amnesty International, told IPS.
Britain's leading transplantation society added its voice to the growing concern over the practice of organ harvesting in April when it claimed in a statement on its Web site that an "accumulating body of evidence" convinced them that organs of executed prisoners were being removed for transplantation without consent.
"The British Transplantation Society condemns unreservedly any activity that transgresses an individual's human rights or involves the coercion of an individual to become an organ donor. A reported close relationship between transplant units and the authorities regulating executions and the availability of organs is unethical," Professor Stephen Wigmore, chairman of the BTS ethics committee, told IPS.
Such evidence includes information from the Beijing-based Bek-Transplant.com Web site that openly admits under its "Frequently Asked Questions" section that the organs they use come from "people that are executed in China."
More than 3,000 executions were documented in China last year by Amnesty International, although the true figure is thought to be much higher. In March 2004, a senior member of the National People's Congress announced that China executes around 10,000 people per year.
The Bek-Transplant Web site openly advertises for business from foreigners. The cost of a kidney transplant for non-Chinese nationals is put at $70,000, and a liver transplant at $120,000 for both the organ and the operation. Payments are made to the medical centers.
Although the exact number of organs taken from prisoners is unknown, the organization reckoned the figure could be in the thousands. The organs are being sold both to Chinese residents and foreign nationals, the BTS official said.
"We know that Japanese and Koreans are the main users but individuals from USA, Britain, Israel and Arab countries are all reported to have been to China for transplants," said Wigmore.
Patients who travel to China for an organ often are desperate, Wigmore said, adding, however that purchasing an unethically obtained organ could backfire. "Any act that risks calling the practice of transplantation into disrepute is to be regretted," Wigmore said.
The society membership decided to speak out on the practice to lower demand, he added.
"We hope that by raising awareness of the practices in China we will discourage people from going there for transplants, thus reducing the demand for organs and also the financial incentive to do this activity," said Wigmore. "We hope that other medical societies and governments will support the position that we have taken and apply their own pressures to China to make it stop doing this."
The Falun Gong Human Rights Working Group has been documenting the practice. The group reported on its Web site that many of its practitioners are being killed for their organs in the Sujiatun Concentration Camp. The cut-open bodies are then cremated, the group charged.
"It is known that human organs from the Sujiatun Concentration Camp are sold to various hospitals. Those hospitals purchase human organs for resale on the international market. In the past, many Falun Gong practitioners were tortured to death, and some of their organs have been harvested," the group wrote in a statement on its Web site.
The group, which practices the ancient art for mind and body, highlighted a number of examples of people who it claims have been subject to the practice. One of these is the case of Yang Ruiyu from Fuzhou City in the Fujian Province of China.
"On the morning of July 19, 2001, at around 10 a.m., Ms. Yang was taken away from her work. Ms. Yang was tortured to death on July 22. Her body was sent under police escort all the way to a crematorium. Yang Ruiyu's husband and daughter were not allowed to approach the body. It was said that there was a hole in Ms. Yang's side as large as a fist," the group wrote.
Since making its appeal to halt organ harvesting last month, Wigmore said limited progress has been made, but insisted the practice is far from over.
"One Web site originating in China representing transplants in Chinese hospitals being sold overseas has been closed down. Another which does the same but is based in Japan stopped working for a few days, then came back online," said Wigmore.
The BTS hoped that the political pressure it has applied on the Chinese government will ensure that the regulations they are planning from July will be effective, and said the group will continue to monitor reports from China on the issue.
Amnesty International said secrecy remains a problem within China. The Chinese government does not allow Amnesty to conduct research within the country, for example. Still, it is not immune to international criticism and pressure, the London-based rights group said.
"The fact that the authorities legislated against the sale of organs shows that they are aware that the practice goes on and that it is damaging to their credibility. This is a key way to push for change," said Rees-Roberts.
"Given the cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty, Amnesty International considers that there will be few, if any, circumstances under which a prisoner facing imminent execution will be able to 'voluntarily' give 'free and informed consent' to having their organs extracted," she added.
The group has long called on China to ban such practices, first reporting the practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners in 1993. The death penalty remains applicable to around 68 crimes in China. They include non-violent offenses, such as committing tax fraud, embezzling state property and accepting a bribe.
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May 11, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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