Meet the local doctor who helped end China's corrupt organ-transplant system

Crains Chicago Busniess | Elizabeth Blackwell

Photo by Manuel Martinez Dr. Michael Millis

For 10 years, Dr. Michael Millis has been leading a secret life. As a surgeon and director of the University of Chicago Transplant Center, he has performed more than 1,000 liver transplants, including a rare liver-cell infusion on a premature baby who weighed only 3 pounds.

But Millis, 56, also has been playing a significant—though quiet—role in one of the most contentious issues in the medical transplant world: China's use of organs from executed prisoners. By assisting the Chinese government in overhauling its approach to organ donation, Millis has helped the country shift to a more ethical system, with implications that may go beyond health care.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Millis became interested in Chinese history and politics while a student at Emory University. As a transplant fellow at UCLA, he helped train a Hong Kong surgeon who, in 1996, invited him on his first of many trips to China. While Hong Kong's organ-donation system was similar to the volunteer models used in all major industrialized countries, Millis began hearing that things were different in mainland China, where the primary source of donor organs was executed prisoners. Continue reading