Forced Organ Harvesting in China: Human Beings as a Material Resource
July 29, 2022
The practice of forced organ harvesting, in which in which persecuted religious minorities in China are killed for their vital organs, was the focus of two events at the recent International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington on June 29-30.
In a preliminary event, Nina Shea, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute talked with Ethan Gutmann, whom she indicated is “the world’s foremost human rights field researcher on China’s forced organ harvesting” about the manner and extent to which religious minority detainees are killed for their organs. Gutmann is a Senior Research Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Shea began by saying that forced organ harvesting starts with a prospective patient calling a transplant center and requesting an organ, perhaps a heart. This is scheduled “for the next day, or the next few days.” This is “an incredibly short time” for an organ to be provided. In America, for instance, it may take months or years before an organ can be obtained. Organs for transplant in China, however, can quickly be obtained from “the vast number of detainees” that are held by China. Religious minorities used for organ harvesting include in particular Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and house church Christians.
In a given case of harvesting, once there is a request for an organ, the transplant hospital will match the patient desiring a transplant with a database containing information on the blood and tissue types of detainees. A prisoner matching the patient’s requirements is selected for the transplant, who is then sent to a medical center. There he or she is killed, and the organ rushed to the transplant hospital to receive the organ. Shea said that in the organ harvesting project, China manages to “kill two birds with one stone … it kills religious minorities, and it also makes a killing in profits.” Organ harvesting in China “is now a billion dollar industry.” As forced organ harvesting became more well known, international pressure resulted in China formally claiming in 2015 that it had stopped the practice. It was then claimed that a “voluntary registry” had replaced registries that included detainees.
Gutmann said that the claim that China had switched to voluntary transplants was debunked by the discovery that China was “not doing 10,000 transplants a year, but 60,000 to 100,000.” The quick turnaround time to obtain a transplant also belies any such claim. Additionally, it was shown that the statistics that China reported for “voluntary transplant numbers were actually based on an equation.” The statistics were in the form of “a perfect curve.” It seems extremely unlikely that numbers would increase, and increase in a perfect curve, despite a switch to voluntary donation of organs. It has also been noticed that as the number of transplants went up “the number of people in detention started to decrease.” Blood testing and tissue matching are done with prisoners in detention centers, and their types held in a database, to be matched with potential recipients. Over recent years, it has been reported that “2.9%-5% of [detention] camp residents were disappearing every year. And these people were age 28-29.” This age, China believes, is that when one’s organs are at peak value.
Gutmann said a former SARS hospital in Aksu in Xinjiang (in far northwest China), is connected with many of the organ transplants. China advertised this to the world as a place quickly supplying organs. A local airport has a “fast lane” specifically designated for the rapid transport of human organs. In the general vicinity of the hospital is a large crematorium, which local residents verified as being a crematorium from the smell of burning flesh. Gutmann estimates that 25,000 to 50,000 Uyghur Muslims each year are killed by forced organ harvesting. He emphasized that “this is happening every day.” And even though this seems to be killing on a high scale, he said that only publicity about forced organ harvesting “has prevented this program from exploding.”
In a subsequent panel, Shea discussed organ harvesting with Gutmann, Levi Browde, Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, and Nury Turkel, Chair of the U.S. International Commission on Religious Freedom. Shea began by calling forced organ harvesting “one of the worst human rights crimes of the modern era.” She said that “it rivals” what Nazi doctors had done in World War II, who performed horrific medical experimentation on prisoners. The killing of detainees to remove their organs, she said, has made China one of the “foremost” sources of organs, and “has been done with a lot of American help.”
Shea noted that the practice of organ harvesting against Falun Gong “has been going on for two decades now.” It then began to be practiced against Uyghur Muslims and other religious minorities. Shea asked Browde why Falun Gong has been subjected to organ harvesting. Browde said that Falun Gong had functioned openly with government approval in the 1990s, and had been extremely popular, with 100 million followers. It “brought back traditional [Chinese] values.” However, the communist leader at the time, Jiang Zemin, feared such a large group of people outside the control of the Chinese Community Part (CCP), feared that Falun Gong was restoring traditional values the communists earlier tried to suppress, and was giving people meaning and value in their lives independent of communist ideology and his direction. In the summer of 1999, against the advice of other communist leaders, he “ordered that Falun Gong be eliminated.” Immediately, the practice of Falun Gong became illegal. Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were sent to labor camps in the following years, with “orders to destroy them financially, destroy their reputations, [and] destroy them physically.”
Browde said that in the early 2000s, it was realized that much money could be made from killing detainees and harvesting their organs. Previously organ transplants were rare in China, but graphs of organ transplants “suddenly just takes off in exact correlation with the number of Falun Gong practitioners that are being held in prisons.” Shea referred to this as “a monetization of persecution.”
Turkel spoke about the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in connection with organ harvesting. He said persecution became severe in the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when China did not want Uyghur nationalism to lead to separatism. Riots in February 1997 resulted in imprisonment and death for Uyghur religious and community leaders. Turkel said that he himself was born in a re-education camp prior to this time and lived through much oppression in China prior to his arrival in the United States in 1995.
Turkel pointed to the “fast-track” lane for organs at Aksu airport mentioned above, which is for human organs to be rushed onto a plan for transport to inland cities in China. He said the government mandated free health checkups and blood tests for Uyghurs. He also said that in the 2018-2019 period a crematorium was built near the camps. Also, about the same time the Chinese government circulated a video about “halal” organ transplants, which included an Arabic speaking customer who received an organ transplant and was pleased with the short wait time and world-class facilities. Thus, Shea observed, there is organ transplant tourism for customers “who can pay.” She noted that in the U.S., there can be a four year wait time or more for kidneys.
Gutmann said that his research and that of associates shows that 60,000-100,000 transplants occur each year (twice the number as in the U.S.). A single Chinese transplant hospital did 8,000 transplants per year, and “they’re in every province.” Also, 25,000 to 50,000 of these transplants are from Uyghur Muslims, and organs continue to be harvested from Falun Gong. He also said that obtaining information from labor camps in China is now very difficult, because everything is now under complete surveillance. But he said he has seen “incredible continuity” in the practice of forced organ harvesting since the 2003/2004 period, although the minorities that are subjected to it have changed.
Shea observed that there is “no due process” in the camps. There are no courts or trials or sentences or inspection of the facilities. Inmates can be treated in any way the administrators of the camp want. While the Chinese authorities claim that the labor camps are “vocational training camps,” documentary evidence shows that they are in fact concentration camps. Shea then asked Browde how forced organ harvesting in China was first learned about.
Browde said that a doctor first reported it. Although severely condemned at the time, investigation by Gutmann and others showed that the doctor’s claims were clearly true. Chinese hospital websites at this time would advertise short wait times for transplants. Browde also said that investigators called to China wanting vital organs and were told that they could quickly get fresh Falun Gong organs, which they were told were desirable because the Falun Gong lead healthy lives (no alcohol, no tobacco, etc.). While Chinese medical personnel have been more cautious in recent years, he said that as recently as a year and a half ago, some were making these claims in telephone calls. Browde also said that people who are subjected to various kinds of abuse, such as police ransacking the home of a religious minority family, are blood-tested, when this makes no sense unless those tested are potential victims of forced organ transplantation. Another observation was that unlike America, China has not had a donor network until recently, and the Chinese donor network is now 62 times more efficient at producing organs than the U.S.
Shea observed that U.N. rapporteurs (experts) on this general area said last year “that they were deeply alarmed” at information regarding forced organ harvesting that they were receiving from China. In particular, they were concerned about the continued practice of blood testing and screening of vital organs from religious minorities in China. She also said that researchers found many references in Chinese medical literature concerning the removal of hearts while the patient is still alive.
Turkel noted several things commonly reported by those who have had contact with the persecution of religious minorities in China (“camp survivors, direct indirect victims, physicians,” etc.). These include “involuntary medical check-up, blood testing,” and technology designed to alter one’s state of mind.
Shea referred to the “enormous collaboration between American universities and colleges, medical schools, and hospitals, transplant hospitals” with their Chinese counterparts. China has become either the first, or second to the United States, “the first in the world in transplantation, thanks to this western support. It wasn’t just the United States, but the United States heavily, heavily has supported China in this.” Browde added that “this is a chronic problem across every industry in the United States and in the West when it comes to the CCP – ignorance and money.” These, he said, are the two factors which cause western complicity in the grossly immoral activities of the CCP. He noted that there are hundreds of Chinese students studying in America to become transplant doctors. In one specific case he referred to, an American medical institute would not allow information about forced organ harvesting to be discussed inside the institute for fear of losing its Chinese students. He said that where American medical authorities are aware of complicity, some are conflicted about the right course of action, and others just want the medical programs and projects involved in collaboration with China. But he said that “there is an epidemic of ignorance about the CCP, by and large across the Western world.”
Shea observed that Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting have identified more than 340 Chinese transplant surgeons who were trained in the U.S. She also said of the problem of collaboration in immoral activities with China “it is more than training, it’s educational exchanges, it’s fellowships, it’s research, research money, joint research between American transplant hospitals and Chinese transplant hospitals.” She said that institutions involved are among the premier medical schools in the country, and pointedly said that “it’s Harvard, it’s Stanford, it’s University of Pittsburgh.” But she said that “there are scores of them.”
Turkel urged that America needs to ban contact with the transplant industry in China. Gutmann agreed. He also believes many American medical institutions want to save face, and so try to evade their responsibility. Shea said that “a first step is going to be the passage of the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act.” Browde agreed that saving face, saving money, and ignorance are major problems. He said that there must be transparency in dealing with China, and pointed to Taiwan’s experience with the coronavirus crisis. Taiwanese doctors were in contact with doctors in Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic. Within days of the time the Wuhan virus was first discovered in a hospital there, Taiwan shut down flights to Wuhan, and then days later shut down flights to China. As a result, Taiwan had “days and days of zero cases.”
A questioner asked about the possibility of producing documentaries about forced organ harvesting in China. But Browde said that people who have produced documentaries have found problems in distribution. “No one wants to touch this as a documentary issue, just like they don’t want to touch it as a medical issue.”
It can be observed from a Christian viewpoint that forced organ harvesting is entirely in line with a worldview that sees human beings as material of no intrinsic value, to be assigned a value by authorities. And those authorities became authorities, in Mao Tse-tung’s famous phrase, “out of the barrel of a gun.” In a world focused on technologically facilitated happiness, it is too easy, if there is no belief in the sanctity of human life, to slip into killing for convenience.