China harvested organs from living prisoners, likely detained Uyghurs: report

China harvested organs from living prisoners, likely detained Uyghurs: report
Scientists say organs have been harvested from patients who were not yet brain-dead, most likely prisoners. In recent years, several human rights groups have also accused China of harvesting organs from detained members of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
3 min read
10 April, 2022
Human rights activists have denounced China's policies towards Uyghur Muslims [Eko Siswono Toyudho/Anadolu Agency via Getty]

Chinese doctors have harvested vital organs from living patients, causing their death, two researchers have claimed in a scientific paper published earlier this week.

It was highly likely these organs were harvested from prisoners, the report said.

The findings, which were published on Monday, raised concerns about the fate of thousands of members of China's Muslim Uyghur minority, held in labour and "re-education" camps as part of a policy widely decried by human rights activists as "genocide".

Mathew Robertson, a doctoral student in politics and international relations at the Australian National University in Canberra, and Prof. Jacob Lavee, who served as president of the Israeli Transplantation Society, analysed 2,800 scientific articles in Chinese dealing with heart and lung transplants.

The researchers found evidence that in an alarmingly high number of cases, organs had been harvested from living persons.

"In 71 papers, we found clear and unequivocal proof that brain death was not determined before the organ harvesting operation commenced,” Lavee told the Israeli daily Haaretz. This meant that the organ removal was "the proximate cause" of the patients' death.

"It is clear that all the subjects undergoing surgery described in the papers had to be prisoners," Lavee added. "There was no alternative voluntary organ donor system during the time in question."

China said in 2014 it would stop harvesting organs from detainees, years after officially admitting that executed prisoners provided at least two-thirds of organs used for transplantation in China.

Lavee and Robertson found no evidence that organ harvesting on living patients had taken place since this date, which meant that either China had implemented reforms or that evidence of such practices was now better hidden.

Human rights activists and foreign experts have alleged that tens of thousands of organs continued to be harvested each year from members of state-persecuted minorities in China and sold for transplant. 

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Some 15 million members of minorities in China's Xinjiang province, including Uyghur Muslims, underwent medical examinations to check matches of organs for transplant, researcher Ethan Gutmann told the Israeli daily Haaretz in 2020. 

In 2019, the Australia-based activist group China Tribunal told the UN's Human Rights Council that Chinese authorities were harvesting organs from persecuted Uyghurs and members of the Falun Gong religious group.

China is a huge provider of organ transplants. Public Chinese statements have revealed that over 50,000 organ transplants are due to take place in 2023. It is also a known destination for "organ tourism", attracting transplant-seekers from Japan, Korea and also Muslims from the Gulf States who prefer "halal organs" taken from Muslims like the Uyghurs, according to Gutmann.

"Chinese hospitals advertise waiting times of just a few weeks for organ transplants – compared with months and years in the West," Lavee highlighted. "The Chinese continue to advertise the sale of organs to transplant tourists on the internet in English, Russian and Arabic.”

Until now, scientists and activists have lacked official documents linking the gruesome traffic to the Chinese state, which has denied the allegations. 

"The Chinese government has always followed the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) on human organ transplantation, and has further strengthened the administration of organ transplantation in recent years," the Chinese embassy in Israel told Haaretz following the revelations.

well-documented "genocide"  has been launched by Chinese authorities against Muslim minority communities in Xinjiang, involving mass detention and indoctrination.