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Illicit Organ Harvesting in China Criticized

International Campaign Targets Organ Harvesting in China
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The international spotlight is increasingly focused on the alleged practice by China of harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience and members of religious and ethnic minority groups. The European Parliament called on China on December 12 to halt the practice and the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a similar resolution.

In front of the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles, Falun Gong practitioners protest with banners and speeches. They accuse the Chinese government of forcibly harvesting the organs of imprisoned Falun Gong followers.

Speaking to journalists, Zeng Zheng recalled her experience after her arrest.

“On the day that we were transferred from the detention center to the labor camp, the person we saw, to our surprise, was not the police guard but a doctor. We were taken to an unknown place where a doctor was waiting for us and to interrogate us about our medical history," said Zheng.

Falun Gong practitioner Dana Churchill is with Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting. The group works closely with Falun Gong.

“The majority of the people in the labor camps are Falun Gong. The majority of the organs are all coming from Falun Gong practitioners. 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners are estimated to have been murdered for their organs from 2001 to 2006, 2007," said Churchill.

Speaking to the China Daily, a Chinese government official dismissed the allegations as “sheer fabrications" of what he called the Falun Gong Cult. The official said not a single Falun Gong practitioner has been subject to "forced organ transplantations.”

Harry Wu spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps. He eventually became a U.S. citizen and is a prominent human rights activist. He is skeptical about the Falun Gong accusations.

“If you want to argue, if you want to protest, if you want to show up in front of the Chinese government, it’s right [alright]. But I told the Falun Gong very clear[ly] you really need the evidence," said Wu.

Wu has spoken with patients and doctors in China, and says the practice of removing the organs of executed prisoners continues but there has been a change in policy.

"China, until today, [for] more than 30 years remove[d] the organs from executed prisoners. If we give a small estimate like 4,000 executed prisoners every year, 30 years that means 120,000 - [a] huge number," he said.

Gabriel Danovitch is a doctor at the University of California Los Angeles and a member of the Transplantation Society, also known as TTS. He says TTS is working with the Chinese government to establish a transplant registry similar to those in the United States and Europe.

“I believe at the highest levels of the Chinese government and health ministries a decision has been made, and there is an understanding that this practice must come to an end," said Danovitch.

Haibo Wang, a top Chinese health official, confirmed this, telling the World Health Organization Bulletin last year that relying on the organs of death row prisoners is not ethical or sustainable.

But Dr. Danovitch says China also needs to change a system that caters to the wealthy.

“China has almost been like a department store for organs for people coming from all over the world to pay for those organs and pay big money for those organs," he said.

Doctors and human rights groups say change will not happen overnight. But Danovitch is hopeful that international pressure will move China to adopt an ethical way of acquiring organs for transplant.