To find clients, Cai Shaohua would hang out outside dialysis units at major hospitals in Beijing. A kidney broker in China’s Wild West organ transplant market, it was up to him to find the recipient, while another broker rustled up donors. If the donor passed the physical, Cai would then falsify documents for 400 yuan ($61).
Cai, now a disgraced organ broker who is telling it all, explained to Chinese Life Week magazine that recipients pay between 110,000 and 120,000 yuan ($16,858 to $18,390) for a kidney. He, the other broker, and the donor each get a third of the fee.
While Cai won’t be outside hospitals anymore—he is being charged in the Beijing Haidian District Court for his illegal brokerage—there are organ brokers at every transplant hospital in Beijing, he says. It’s an open secret. “Each broker has his or her own turf and is not allowed to do business elsewhere. But the brokers often exchange information or resources among themselves.”
Cai’s story is a glimpse into the unscrupulous organ industry in China, where players make handsome profits by falsifying documents and kidnapping unwilling donors.
According to China’s “Human Organ Transplant Regulation,” the only people permitted to donate organs are married partners and certain close relatives. Cai’s job was to falsify the relationship where none actually existed.
The extreme shortage of legitimate organs in China means the illegal organ trade is strong. Evidence from two independent studies suggests that since 2000, Falun Gong practitioners, millions of whom are incarcerated in China’s prison and labor camp systems, have been executed expressly for the purpose of harvesting their organs. The studies estimate that at least 40,000 – 65,000 organ transplants in China have originated from this source.
Hu Jie is a 26-year-old male who woke up without his left kidney. His story was widely reported in the Chinese media.
Originally from Hunan and employed in Guangdong, Hu had lost 24,000 yuan ($3,678) gambling, and his creditor demanded the money within two months. When he saw an online advertisement offering a tidy reward for a kidney donation, he decided to contact the broker. They settled on the price tag of 40,000 yuan ($6,130).
Hu travelled to Shandong to meet the broker, who then took him to a hospital for a physical. Hu did not have to check in or show his ID; the broker had a relationship with the hospital and brought a new client through every couple of days, an article in Hong Kong’s Next Media said.
After Hu passed the screening test, the broker took him to Linfen in Shanxi Province to meet the recipient of his kidney. That’s when Hu got cold feet. But the broker said it was too late: they had spent all that money on his health test and the transportation, and weren’t going to leave without their pound of flesh.
On Jan. 6 three of the broker’s enforcers took Hu to a small hospital in the countryside in Shanxi province, sedated him, and had his kidney removed.
“The day after the operation, I found myself alone in the hospital. Someone left a message on my cell phone saying 27,000 yuan ($4,137) has been transferred to my bank account. The message also warned me not to talk,” Hu told Next Magazine.
Authorities announced that they were investigating Hu’s ordeal, after his story kicked up dust in the media.