China to stop harvesting convict organs

China officials plan to end organ harvesting from death-row inmates, in a move to reform an organ donation system which has for many years relied heavily on prisoners. Huang Jiefu, China’s vice minister of health, said that Chinese officials aim to root out the practice in the next 5 years and build a national organ-donation system. “The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government,” said Mr Huang, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. He explained that infection rates in prisoners were higher. Human-rights groups say the donations are often forced and executions are delayed to suit the needs of organ recipients.

Traditional beliefs and distrust of the medical system have kept voluntary organ donation numbers in China very low. Every year, 1.5 million people in China require organ transplants – but only about 10,000 receive them, according to government statistics. An estimated 65% of China’s organ donations come from prisoners, according to Amnesty International. It may be difficult for China to end its reliance on prisoners, because there is no obvious source of voluntary donations -- without establishing a market in organs. As previously reported in BioEdge, some hospitals in China have resorted to illegal organ trading to make up for the constant shortage. However, China banned organ trafficking in 2007, limiting all living organ donations to blood relatives, spouses, and people with close family ties. ~ Wall Street Journal, Mar 23

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