March 28, 2006

China Says to Ban Sale of Human Organs

By Lindsay Beck

BEIJING -- China said on Tuesday it will ban the sale of human organs and strengthen oversight of its transplant market, which critics say has become a haven for illegal trade and centers on organs of executed prisoners.

Ministry of Health regulations that take effect on July 1 require the written consent of donors and restrict the number of hospitals allowed to perform transplant operations.

Cases must also be discussed by an ethics committee, said the regulations posted on the ministry's Web site (

The World Health Organization (WHO) called the new rules, which lack the authority of a full law, a positive step.

"Some brokers worldwide were exploiting loopholes in the legal framework in China," said Luc Noel, of the WHO in Geneva.

"China was known as a place where foreigners can purchase organs, particularly from executed criminals."

Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu has said that most human organs used for transplants come from executed prisoners. Rights groups say an estimated 5,000 to 12,000 are put to death in China each year -- more than anywhere else in the world.

"It raises concerns because of the ability for someone who is submitted to the constraints of jail to express any will of his own," Noel said.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said there had been cases where organs of executed prisoners were used without their consent, but said such instances were rare and were against the law.

"There are only a few cases of this kind. The same strict procedures apply to using organs from executed criminals as using them from deceased volunteer donors," Qin told a news conference.

"It is slander to say that China tries to take away the organs of death penalty victims," he said. "In China, if you want ... to donate or receive transplant organs, you must go through strict formalities."

Human rights have said China makes widespread use of executed prisoners' organs and allege that hospitals have turned to lucrative organ sales and transplants to raise funds.

In 2003, doctors had to remove the eyes of nine cataracts patients after cornea transplant operations in the eastern province of Jiangsu were botched by hospital mismanagement and unlawful cooperation with "non-medical organizations," state media reported.

At least 2 million patients in China require organ transplants annually, but only 20,000 receive them due to donor shortages.