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Global bazaar in body parts

Thursday, July 20, 2006 (SF Chronicle)
Global bazaar in body parts
Debra J. Saunders

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
Bush 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 being sold to foreigners. A new
Chinese 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 the Falun Gong began
in 1999."

Falun Gong is a meditative practice -- sometimes dubbed "Chinese
yoga" -- that practitioner Steve Ispas of Los Altos tells me promotes
"truthfulness, compassion and tolerance." Nonetheless, the People's
Republic of China refers to the 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, and 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 organ transplants over the past six
years -- from 18,500 in 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 the number of
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."

Web sites 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 cited an average wait of one week. 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 healthy organs from live Falun Gong

America has a role in China's human-parts boom. As The Chronicle
reported in April, a San Mateo father of six plunked down $110,000 and then
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 go online to
inform other affluent Americans of 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

Kilgour and Matas penned 17 recommendations to thwart what they
believe is happening. Among them, nations need to pass laws that require doctors
to report patients who obtain trafficked organs; and medical groups should
not invite Chinese transplant surgeons to conferences. Meanwhile, if
the People's Republic of China 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 into one big organ bazaar -- with human life itself as a hot
commodity available to the highest bidder.



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