- China - death penalty - health - illegal
Leading up to the Olympic Games opening ceremony, Beijing sought to showcase a shiny, modern China. The thriving black market in organ trafficking uncovered by France 24 reporters Sebastien le Belzic and Henry Morton is likely the last thing they wanted people to see.
China executes between 2,000 and 10 000 prisoners each year - the highest number in the world. According to Amnesty International, 90% of transplant operations in China come from executed prisoners. Authorities acknowledge the practice, but insist that prior consent is given either by the donor or their family – something the relatives of several executed convicts adamantly deny. They say the bodies of their loved ones are either not returned to their families or immediately cremated after execution. Because the organ trading market is so lucrative, penal authorities can be bribed into forging consent forms.
A lucrative business
The organs are often traded, sold at up to 100,000 US dollars a piece to wealthy Chinese and foreigners. A law passed last July officially bans this kind of transplant, and the Chinese government argues that existing cases stem from a few rogue surgeons and are not the norm. “Before the regulations were not very clear, so a lot of foreigners came here for transplants” says Zhai Xiao Mei, Director of the Beijing Research Centre on Bioethics. “But now the law is very strict; you can’t just come to China for a transplant operation. It is forbidden.”
In reality, the law is completely ignored in the port city of Tianjin, about 70 kilometers south-east of Beijing, where a sophisticated system appears to be in place to facilitate the trading.
A state-of-the-art, world-renowned Tianjin hospital, opened eight years ago, operates organ transfers on one hundred or so patients specially flown in from abroad for the organ that could save their life.
“Getting an organ is not a problem”
Acting as an intermediary between foreign organ seekers and hospitals is a lucrative business in Tianjin. Our reporters pretended to be looking for a donor when they contacted one of these “facilitators”, who prefers to remain anonymous. He warns that Chinese hospitals have started limiting the number of transplants they agree to perform: “They don’t take everybody now. These transplants are illegal, and there is growing pressure from other countries, so now they operate only in secret.” But, he assured, “it is no problem getting organs.” He believes they come from “villages, and people who have been executed.”
There are Web sites that advertise made-in-China organ transplants: lower prices, shorter waiting lists, modern facilities. There is no mention of where the organs are harvested, of course. You can find information on available operations, prices and contact details. A liver transplant costs, on average, 62,000 US dollars, and a lung transplant up to 150 000.
Some governments even pay for their citizens to receive transplants in China. Filmed by a hidden camera, the brother of a Saudi Arabian transplant patient explained that he wasn’t sure what the exact price of the operation was because his government had paid for it. When asked why they came to China for the operation, he answers that his brother “had no other choice. Believe me, we have tried everything… But nothing worked and now we are really desperate.”
There is a vast, impersonal cemetery in Tianjin. It is the final resting place for dozens of patients from the Middle East whose reliance on an illegal Chinese transplants ended in their death.