Friday, December 9, 2011

China Organ Harvesting: Some Perspective

A recent article The Xinjiang Procedure revisits a perennial topic of organ harvesting from executed prisoners in China.

 In this lengthy look at organ harvesting the author Ethan Gutmann in The Weekly Standard  focuses on organs being harvested from executed  prisoners in China particularly Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. 

It undoubtedly is written to paint an invocative and horrendous picture of the issue, even citing the harvesting of organs from still living prisoners.

This type of article, perennially trotted out, makes for scary reading for those not familiar with the subject. "The Xinjiang Procedure” went 'viral” on Twitter when posted drawing, understandably, much  condemnation of the Chinese regime. A U.S.Congressman, one Mr Pitts, even entered "The Xinjiang Procedure" into the Congressional Record 

By it's nature the article is highly emotive and inflammatory and, given the secrecy that exists in China concerning this issue, totally unable to be independently substantiated or corroborated apart from the word of “eye witnesses” and the prior admission by the Chinese government that legal organ harvesting does, in fact, exist.

This is not to say that there is not a basis for the allegations. In my worldview where there is smoke there is usually fire. Having said that we have to look at such offerings in some perspective.

The issue of organ “harvesting” is not new and it is definitely no state secret. It first came to the west's notice in the 1990's and was publicly admitted to in 2006, by China’s then Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, who acknowledged that the majority of organs transplanted in China came from executed prisoners. 

 "The Xinjiang Procedure", as stated, is just one of may reports going back to the 1990's. Earlier this century it was widely reported in the Washington Post and other publications. As well it was attested to by a Han Chinese asylum seeking doctor in front of a U.S. Congressional HearingFalun Gong supporters have long attempted to draw attention to similar alleged "illegal harvesting" among their adherents in China. The highly respected Harry Wu and his Laogai Research Foundation, as well, has come out in supporting the assertions that "illegal" organ harvesting from prisoners on death row exists. 

Organ donation rates in China are among the lowest in the world. This is as a direct result of a powerful cultural concept represented by the Chinese idiom "rutu weian," literally meaning "return to earth and find peace," Part of this concept is that a body is to be buried with all body parts where possible, thus, to donate body parts would run in direct opposition to this deeply ingrained cultural concept.

This rate is further impacted upon, given the tight time frames involved in organ  transplantation, by the belief that few, if any, Chinese hospitals would be equipped to handle such procedures, or, that there is the sophisticated computer software, databases and networks in place to co-ordinate these transplants as there exists in more developed health care countries.

Given the foregoing, removing organs from consenting prisoners where teams of doctors can make all arrangements with the donor and recipient, down to the last minute and well ahead of time, unlike in the case of accidental or natural deaths, would seem to be an ideal situation. The donor has an avenue to “atone” for his life “sins” and the recipient can be identified, prepared and ready to go at a predetermined time.

Whilst there are no government provided figures available it is widely thought by various human rights groups that executions in China run at 5,000 plus per annum. 

 The Dui Hua Foundation, for example, estimated that China executed between 5,000 and 6,000 people in 2007, down from 10,000 in 2005. In 2009. Amnesty International estimated 1718 executions took place during 2008, but, with the rider that the figure was likely to be much higher. The rate will further decrease as China has, this year, reduced the number of offences that demand mandatory capital punishment.

We therefore, at 5,000 say, have a potential donor base of only .0036% of the population and then only if all prisoners consented. It would hardly seem a voluminous harvest when viewed in those terms, albeit, still potentially lucrative.

Obviously organ removal occurs. The questions that leap to mind, if all is handled above board and
 legally, are: 

  • Given the low volume to be sourced from executed prisoners who decides who the recipients are? Obviously some dirt poor farmer would not be on the top of the list. 
  • What is the criteria for selection? High ranking Party members, the rich, foreigners? 

But even then, whilst these questions obviously pose moral considerations, in the final analysis they are irrelevant if there exists consent on the part of the donor and a real need on the part of the recipient, and, that the organ removal is done post mortem.

The real questions from my point of view is  the question of “consent

China maintains, and has laws to back it up,  that involuntary organ harvesting is illegal under Chinese law though, under a 1984 regulation, it is legal to remove organs from executed criminals with the prior consent of the criminal or permission of next of kin. This is in line with organ donation protocols worldwide and undoubtedly the Chinese authorities have "signed" consent documents from all prisoners who had organs harvested.

But the problem we face not only with this issue but others such such as alleged forced abortions and sterilisations as a consequence of China's Population policy (a.k.a “One Child Policy”) is that there is no government transparency nor independent oversight.

This is a two edged sword. The lack of transparency and oversight allows anyone to make any allegations against the government, as in this case, with the “evidence” being totally hearsay. On the other hand this could very well allow the Chinese government and /or corrupt officials to perpetrate the atrocities attributed to them in this article.

It goes without saying that where there is unquenchable demand and little supply there will be large money on offer to attempt to satisfy some of that demand. "Class 101 corruption and criminality". In the case of China and organ donation there is virtually no supply other than from executed prisoners. And, in the case of China, in certain quarters, little morality or ethics when it comes to money, especially when it concerns political prisoners and, more especially, when those prisoners are Uyghurs.

There is little co-incidence that the article is entitled  “The Xinjiang Procedure” for if the incidents of coerced consent, as alleged, occur then the Uyghur are prime targets. Firstly, most will be political prisoners the lowest of the low in the eyes of the 
Han Chinese . The Uyghurs are Turkic and generally considered by the Han to be lesser beings and, thirdly, because, as Uyghurs, and given China's history of subjugation and deadly repression of them, the Uyghur people generally are less likely to complain for fear of retribution and, even if they did, very unlikely to be heard. 

And, lastly, we should look at the previously mentioned cultural concept of "rutu weian," which would seemingly make Han Chinese prisoners less likely to consent to organ donation even under duress, their families more likely to be heard in complaint and a greater deference afforded to them, as a result of "rutu weian," by those kindred Han involved in any possible coercion, as compared to that consideration being afforded to the Uyghurs.

As readers and observers we must expose ourselves to reports such as “The Xinjiang Procedure”  We must critically examine them and not take them out of hand as being correct. On the other hand, we must weigh up all the possibilities, the evidence available and, on the balance of probabilities, lean to one side or the other. 

We know that in China organ harvesting occurs but it is not illegal unless there is no "consent" and that the procedure occurs post-mortem. As in many countries in the world, prisoners may consent to organ donation. Therefore there should be no shock/ horror reaction where that is concerned.

The allegation that organ removal happens, more than occasionally, pre-mortem by design obviously would be a major concern but the question that begs to be answered is why would this need to be done? Given the lack of transparency and independent oversight if there was a medical reason to take organs pre-mortem what is stopping those concerned just heavily sedating the prisoner? Why run the risk of shooting the prisoner and hoping it is not fatal.

As to the use of coercion to obtain prisoner consent once again the question is: why? To obtain an indecipherable signature on a document that will never see light of day? Perhaps Han Chinese could  pressure for proof regarding their kin's consent, though highly unlikely, but most assuredly the Uyghur would not for reasons aforementioned.

If the illegal harvesting of organs exists, that is, with no consent and pre-mortem, does the Chinese Government know about it? Or, is it limited to local corrupt officials involved in trafficking for monetary gain or political favours? 

As to the end use of the organs does the government condone it as a reward to loyal cadres suffering liver, kidney failures or the like? Even if this is the case, it is not  illegal per se.   

Write about it till you are blue in the face. The Chinese government does not need to coerce consent, but, may well fabricate consent, this will never be proven. The Chinese government does not need to go through a play of half killing a prisoner to ensure he is alive for the transplantation procedure, those that would be involved  are a little more sophisticated for that and the veil of secrecy too great to require such theatrics.

"The Xinjiang Procedure" falls very much in the category of "if it bleeds it leads", sensationalist journalism. It offers nothing new and is based totally on uncorroborated hearsay.

My concern with this whole issue, and one I have had for quite a while, is to what level are the vulnerable Uyghur and the likes of the Falun Gong susceptible to "steal to order" type sentencing arranged by corrupt officials with a view to obtaining saleable supplies?

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