China’s New Organ Donation Registry Unlikely to Take Off
Source of organs for transplant remains a problem
By Sunny Chao & Gisela Sommer
China’s Health Ministry recently stated that China will implement a comprehensive system of organ donation before the end of the year, including asking people to register their intention of donating their organs when applying for their driver’s licenses. But an online surveyshowed that nearly 80 percent of the Chinese public is opposed to this idea.
According to official sources, about 1.5 million patients in China are in need of organ transplants, but only 13,000 can get them.
The source of organs in China is murky, and China’s organ transplant industry is tarnished by allegations of state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting. Chinese people have a cultural aversion to donating their organs. The present official stance is that organs for transplants have come almost entirely from executed prisoners, whether criminals or otherwise.
In 2010 the Ministry of Health launched a campaign to solicit organ donations from the public in ten provinces and cities. The highly touted campaign yielded low results. Only 28 citizens in the entire county donated their organs last year, the Legal Evening News reported on April 25.
Another report from the Information Times revealed that Shenzhen City first started an organ donation campaign in 2003, but has only gotten 50 cases of organ donations in the entire Guandong Province during the past seven years.
Huang Jiefu, Deputy Minister of China’s Ministry of Health, recently said that a new organ donation system will be announced this September. Huang said that after the new system is completed, people can choose whether they want to donate their organs and what organs they want to donate when applying for their driver’s license, according to the Legal Evening News report.
As approximately 100,000 people in China die from traffic accidents every year, some health officials applauded the news of an organ donation registry connected to driver’s license application.
“The combination of organ donation and the application for a driver’s license will doubtlessly increase the source of donors and raise the awareness of donating organs in society,” said Cao Yongfu, deputy director of the Institute of Medical Ethics at Shandong University.
But among the public, the news immediately stirred a heated discussion on the Internet. Henan Business Daily, Henan Baidu, and Sina Henan launched a joint online investigation and found that 78.9 percent of citizens do not want to register their intention to donate their organs, and 71.8 percent of netizens said that they don’t like it because it feels like coercion.
The Daily Economic News said on April 25 that more than 90 percent of netizens oppose it.
Mr Li, who works at the Cheng Fei Group, said that he would not register for organ donation when applying for a driver’s license. “I believe it will bring bad luck,” Li said. “Chinese people always look for symbols of luck. We even avoid the number 4 [the sound of four in Chinese is similar to that of death] when choosing a license plate, let alone mentioning dying from a car accident prior to applying for our driver’s license,” Li said.
Another citizen, Mr Huang, told the Jinan Times that one cannot help but think of bringing bad luck to oneself signing up for organ donation in the event of death, when applying for a driver’s license. He also said that another concern is that once people die, the organs would be removed when family members are not on the scene, and without anyone knowing where and to whom the organs are going.
Writer and journalist Bo Wenjun wrote in his blog, “Maybe from the medical point of view it makes sense to consider a certain group as the prime organ donor source. But considering it from the social, ethical, cultural, and folk customs’ perspectives, it is immoral.”
“Organ donation involves extremely important ethical issues,” a report in Changjiang Daily said. “For thousands of years Chinese traditions held that when a person dies, it is very important that the body be buried whole to bring peace to the dead. Doing otherwise is to disrespect the deceased. For the family it is difficult to accept too.”
Since China is lacking organ donors, the source of organs in China--the world’s second largest organ transplant country in the world--has become controversial.
In the past, Chinese officials have denied allegations of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. However, in Nov. 2006, Huang Jiefu admitted that more than 90 percent of organs for transplantation in China do come from executed prisoners.
This leaves the questions of how many prisoners are executed and who these executed prisoners are. There is still a large discrepancy between organ availability from executed death-row prisoners and the number of organ transplants performed in China.
Amnesty International said in its 2009 annual report that China executed at least 1,718 people in 2008. Though one cannot know the exact number of executed prisoners in China, considering the requirements for tissue matching, the number of executed prisoners in China obviously does not explain the organ sources of at least 10,000 organ transplants performed in China every year.
Since 2006 evidence has been brought forth to show that practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual group that is persecuted in China, have been killed on a large scale for their organs. Falun Gong makes up the largest inmate population in China’s forced labor camps.
Practitioners who survived Chinese prisons and labor camps, in interviews once they arrive abroad, have regularly spoken about blood tests and organ examinations while in custody. Regular inmates were not given these tests, they said.