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Organ transplants

Global trade in human organs expands as cash buys body parts from prisoners, cadavers

Thursday, September 28, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: organ transplants, organ harvesting, black market

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(NewsTarget) An undercover investigation by BBC reporters recently revealed that the business of selling organs for transplant taken from executed prisoners in China is thriving.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes went undercover in China posing as a son seeking a liver for his sick father. Hospital officials at No. 1 Central Hospital in Tianjin told him that a matching liver for his father would be available in three weeks, which contradicts China's official stance that sales of prisoners' organs is a rarity.

Wingfield-Hayes' report discovered one hospital that said it could provide him with a liver for $94,400, and the chief surgeon could confirm if an executed prisoner was a donor match. China's health ministry acknowledges that sales of prisoners' organs is practiced, but said the country was reviewing its organ harvesting system and regulations.

According to Amnesty International, China executes more prisoners than any other country in the world, with at least 1,770 executions in 2005, though many believe actual execution numbers are much higher. Chinese officials say prisoners set to be executed voluntarily donate their organs as a "present to society," but health workers around the world have condemned the practice as an unacceptable violation of human rights, calling into question whether or not death row prisoners are actually free to decide what happens to their organs after death.

According to the BBC, the No. 1 Central Hospital performed 600 liver transplants last year in an organ harvesting business that has become widespread and highly profitable. However, some critics of the Chinese practice say selling body parts is a worldwide problem.

"It's not just China that sells body parts on the black market," says natural health advocate Mike Adams. "Illegal trade in body parts is happening right now in the United States, Canada and Europe. The organ harvesting and transplantation industry is rife with criminal conduct and severe lapses in medical ethics."

In late August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered a North Carolina body part harvesting company to close after discovering serious violations in its practices. Donor Referral Services was instructed to cease operations after FDA inspectors found it had altered the paperwork on the ages and medical histories of its donors, omitting important details on donors' intravenous drug use and disease history. All tissues from Donor Referral Services were recalled, though some had already been transplanted.

The shutdown followed one of the biggest U.S. tissue industry scandals, in which New Jersey-based Biomedical Tissue Services allegedly took body parts from corpses without the families' permission.


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