They were in robust health when they were put on the operating table for doctors to carve out their organs. Many of them were still breathing. When the job was done, the bodies were tossed into the incinerator and burned, leaving no trace behind.
The spine-chilling scene is a lived reality for prisoners of conscience in China under the regime’s state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting, recounted by two investigators at a Feb. 17 virtual webinar hosted by Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute.
“There was no charge, no hearing, no appeal,” said David Kilgour, Canada’s former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific, who, together with Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, spent years investigating the issue.
“A policeman just simply said: ‘You’re going to this work camp over here.’ … You waited, working 16 hours a day,” he said. “Then one day somebody would come in, seize them, give them a little potassium, and then their organs would be taken out and their bodies would be burned.
“That’s how the rule of law works in China in terms of getting organs.”
It’s a “perfect crime, because there actually aren’t any survivors” of the operation, added moderator Nina Shea, a human rights lawyer and former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The billion-dollar organ harvesting industry, which boomed at the same time the regime escalated a brutal eradication campaign targeting the spiritual group Falun Gong in the early 2000s, has been covered up in China for decades.
Even in the West, officials and medical bodies were reluctant to confront the issue until 2019, when an independent people’s tribunal in London concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that organ harvesting from Falun Gong inmates had taken place for years “on a significant scale.”
Annie (an alias), a former worker at a Chinese hospital in northeastern China, was the first to shed light on the horrific abuse, in 2006. In testimonies to The Epoch Times later corroborated by others, she revealed how her now ex-husband, a military surgeon at the same hospital, forcibly removed corneas from Falun Gong practitioners.
Her account was what brought the two Davids together to investigate the issue. They later released a report titled “Bloody Harvest,” in which they examined hundreds of hospitals in China, drawing from media reports, medical journals, and archives. They found that the Chinese regime had been using Falun Gong adherents as a living organ bank while significantly undercounting the number of transplants done each year.
Annie’s husband performed more than 2,000 cornea removal operations over a two-year period beginning in 2001, she later told the two in an interview. Her husband was so tormented by his conscience that he began having nightmares, arousing Annie’s suspicion.
The two split after Annie decided she couldn’t accept his complicity in the act. Both of them escaped overseas after receiving threats on their lives.
“This is a national crime,” she said in a statement to The Epoch Times in April 2006.
Annie’s husband felt a deep sense of remorse when he cut open an unwilling donor’s clothes and saw a small box fall out, according to Annie, who had read the account in a journal her husband kept. The small box contained a round Falun Gong pin along with a handwritten note.
“Happy Birthday, Mom,” it read.
Despite the defection of Annie and several others, the organ harvesting machinery has continued to operate, attracting transplant tourists from around the world who are lured by promises from Chinese hospitals of speedy organ matches and surgeries.
“Everywhere else, there’s a shortage of organs, and organs are allocated depending on priorities, but in China, the whole system was run as if there was an inexhaustible supply of organs,” said Matas. “All they had to do was show up and pay the money.
“The whole system is compartmentalized, and everybody would pretend to be willfully blind to the other components of the system.”
Kilgour recalled speaking to a patient from Asia who was presented with four matching kidneys in succession over a few months. The first three kidneys were rejected by his body, and the fourth one was a success. The doctor, who wore a military uniform, presented the first matching kidney shortly after their first meeting.
“They take all the organs. They don’t just take one kidney,” said Kilgour. “So four people died so that this man could get a good kidney. Isn’t that incredible?”
Two dozen counties in Virginia have recently passed resolutions to condemn the Chinese regime’s organ harvesting and warn their residents against taking part in organ tourism in the country. The Texas state Senate has passed similar resolutions.
Some U.S. officials are seeking action in Congress to bring the perpetrators to account.
The two investigators agreed that international bodies need to do more on the issue. Kilgour said he was embarrassed that Canada hadn’t passed any legislation on organ harvesting.
“There’s a few, but not enough,” said Matas, urging countries to cut off collaboration of any kind with the Chinese transplant system.