Is China harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners -- who are killed in the process? David Kilgour, a former Canadian member of parliament, and Canadian human-rights attorney David Matas admit that they cannot prove or disprove allegations that China has killed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in order to harvest their organs, but they fear and believe it is happening. So they wrote in a report released this month for the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China.
China denies the allegations. An embassy spokesman reminded me that U.S. officials toured a site in Shenyang allegedly used for these operations, but a U.S. State Department official said they found "no evidence that the site is being used for any function other than as a normal public hospital." The official U.S. position on the controversy is that the administration is "concerned" about Chinese persecution of Falun Gong, as well as allegations of organ harvesting.
On the other hand, last year a Chinese health official admitted that the organs of executed prisoners were sold to foreigners. A new law now prohibits taking organs without written permission -- even as China has launched a new fleet of execution vans that are turning lethal injection into a movable feat.
There is no question that China is persecuting Falun Gong members. In 2004, the U.S. State Department reported that, "tens of thousands of practitioners remained incarcerated in prisons, extrajudicial re-education-through-labor camps and psychiatric facilities. Several hundred Falun Gong adherents reportedly have died in detention due to torture, abuse and neglect since the crackdown on Falun Gong began in 1999."
Falun Gong is a meditative practice -- sometimes dubbed "Chinese yoga" -- which, practitioner Steve Ispas of Los Altos, Calif., tells me promotes "truthfulness, compassion and tolerance."
Nonetheless, the People's Republic of China refers to Falun Gong as an "anti-humanity, anti-society and anti-science cult" and claims that practitioners refuse needed medical treatment -- which apparently makes it acceptable for the government to jail, even torture, believers.
You don't have to take the word of Falun Gong members to believe that the Chinese government is killing adherents for their body parts.
China has seen a steep rise in transplants over the past six years -- from 18,500 in the six-year period 1994 to 1999 -- to 60,000 in 2000 to 2005. (That figure was extrapolated from the China Medical Organ Transplant Association.) With no sign of a rise in brain-dead donors and family members donating organs, the report found, "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained."
Websites for Chinese medical facilities demonstrate that it is quick and easy to get a human organ in China. One site boasted, "It may take only one week to find out the suitable (kidney) donor." Maximum wait time: one month. One clinic advertised an average waiting time for a liver of two weeks, another clinic cited an average wait of one week for a liver. That's fast service for an operation that requires a fresh, healthy and compatible corpse.
The median waiting time in Canada for an organ was 32.5 months in 2003.
The report also relied on testimony from witnesses, including a woman who claims her ex-husband harvested corneas from some 2,000 Falun Gong members. The report also cited transcripts of phone calls to Chinese hospitals in which doctors offered up healthy organs from live Falun Gong donors.
America has a role in China's human-parts boom. As the Chronicle reported in April, a San Mateo, Calif., father of six plunked down $110,000 and walked away with someone else's liver. He didn't bother to find out if the donor was an executed prisoner, but after the fact, he did bother to go online to inform other affluent Americans how they can buy fresh Chinese organs.
Speaking on the phone from Washington, Kilgour told me that while the buyer of Chinese organs may tell himself that his organ donor was a criminal who was going to be executed anyway, he believes that when foreigners buy a kidney, a Chinese official then "chooses a healthy Falun Gong practitioner who would die in the process of giving you a new kidney."
Kilgour and Matas penned 17 recommendations to thwart what they believe is happening. Countries need to pass laws that require doctors to report patients who obtain trafficked organs. Medical groups should not invite Chinese transplant surgeons to conferences. Meanwhile, if the PRC wants to convince the world that it is not harvesting organs from Falun Gong members, it needs to allow human-rights organizations to inspect re-education camps and interview prisoners.
According to the report, one transplant doctor volunteered to a caller that he had 10 "beating hearts" available at his hospital. If western democracies do nothing, if they continue allow their citizens to buy Chinese organs from unwilling donors, the developing world threatens to devolve one big organ bazaar -- with human life itself as a hot commodity available to the highest bidders.