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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Do China's death row prisoners have a 94% voluntary organ donation rate?

Chinese Law Professor Blog


The issue of taking organs from capital convicts in China has been around for quite some time now. The question, of course, is whether the organ donation is truly voluntary. Stories of varying degrees of plausibility and reliability have circulated for some time about the commercialization of organs for transplant from capital convicts, and it's been a very sensitive subject. Human Rights Watch did a path-breaking report on this issue in 1994.

Now we have some new information: Huang Jiefu, China's Deputy Minister of Health, stated on March 6th that capital convicts are the main source of transplanted organs in China. He also supplied some interesting numbers from which we can make a few deductions. According to Huang, every year there are 1.5 million people in China who need organ donations to save their lives, but the number of available organs is less than one percent of that figure. (There is probably already some fuzziness creeping into these numbers, since not all organs available for donation are needed to save lives - consider corneas - and I have to wonder if separate statistics are really kept on specifically life-saving organs.) Using conservative assumptions, let's suppose that "less than one percent" means half a percent, and that "the main source" means half. (Of course, it depends how one classifies "sources"; how many other possibilities are there? "Main" could mean a plurality out of five different sources. Anyway, if you don't like 50 percent, just substitute your own number and see if the conclusion changes.) That would mean that a little over 3,750 organs are coming from executed prisoners every year - and again, this is using conservative assumptions.

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