Responding to a recent Chinese official's admission that most transplant organs in China come from executed prisoners, two Canadian investigators say this supports claims that organs are also taken from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
Speaking at a medical conference in mid-November, Chinese Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu reportedly admitted that most transplant organs in China are taken from executed prisoners.
"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Huang said, according to the English-language China Daily newspaper. "The current organ donation shortfall can't meet demand."
Huang's statement flies in the face of denials Chinese officials have voiced for years, raising doubts over the credibility of rebuttals regarding other transplant-related practices.
"Their admission to organ harvesting from executed prisoners without consent reinforces our conclusion that there is organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners without consent," said Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas in a recent press release.
In July, Matas co-authored a report on organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners with former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia Pacific, David Kilgour. The report concluded that a large number of transplant organs in China were not coming only from death row prisoners, but also from detained practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual practice.
As evidence, the report cited a significant increase in transplant operations performed in China since the campaign against Falun Gong began in 1999. With no indication that the number of executions had risen dramatically during this period, the authors concluded that 41,500 transplant organs had likely been taken from Falun Gong practitioners.
Kilgour and Matas said this was further confirmed by transcripts of conversations where Chinese doctors admitted using Falun Gong organs, as well as testimonies from former detainees describing selective blood testing of Falun Gong practitioners in labor camps.
"The Falun Gong constitute a prison population who the Chinese authorities vilify, dehumanize, depersonalize, [and] marginalize even more than executed prisoners sentenced to death for criminal offenses," said Matas.
Genuine Change or Smoke Screen?
According to Chinese state-controlled media, during his speech Huang also called for a strict code of conduct and "an information network that registers and keeps track of every human organ donation." But many doubt whether such a system will actually be put into place.
"That's either a step in the right direction, or it's a smoke screen," said David Kilgour, in response to news of the official statement.
One reason for the skepticism is that this is not the first time Huang has made such promises. Last December, he reportedly told the Chinese Caijing magazine that organs were harvested from executed prisoners, and regulations were under way to curb the practice. In April, the Chinese government introduced new legislation to regulate the organ trade and transplant tourism.
The law came into effect in July but Kilgour and Matas say that evidence indicates little has changed and transplants from Falun Gong detainees continue.
"We were hoping that it [the organ harvesting] would have stopped by now, but we are convinced that it is still happening," Kilgour said last week.
Critics maintain that the recent regulations apply to Ministry of Health hospitals but not military ones, where the majority of transplants for foreigners are conducted. Legal experts also say that they focus on trade in organs, which usually refers to people voluntarily selling their own organs for money, a practice common in other developing countries but relatively rare in China.
But the biggest doubts expressed thus far relate to implementation. Amnesty International questions whether the regulations will be enforced, "particularly in view of the high commercial value of organ sales in China." Kilgour and Matas raised similar concerns in their report.
"The overall record of China in implementing new legislation is such that the old practices for organ transplants, whatever they may happen to be, are likely to continue, at least in some places in China, for quite some time," says the report.
But Kilgour is also cautiously optimistic. As he tours the globe publicizing his findings, he has been arguing that international pressure on China could make a difference.
"The question now is whether persons of conscience across the world can persuade the government in Beijing to cease the grotesque practice now before the Olympic Games begin in 08," he says. "My impression from travels now to almost 25 national capitals across the world in recent months is that there is a growing international consensus that it must stop now."
Indeed, in recent weeks several Western officials have raised concerns with the Chinese government following a Kilgour visit. Last week, an Irish parliamentary committee said it would soon call China's ambassador to appear before it to discuss organ harvesting.
"[The report] raises serious questions which must be addressed," committee chair Dr. Michael Woods told The Irish Times . He called on the Chinese authorities to "allow an independent investigation to establish once and for all veracity of these allegations."
Read more on the Chinese regime's Organ Harvesting .