China to end use of prisoners’ organs for transplants

CHINA - China, the only country that still systematically takes organs from executed prisoners for use in tran-splant operations, plans to end the controversial practice by the mid-dle of next year, a senior official said yesterday.

By mid-2014, all hospitals licensed for organ transplants will be required to stop using organs from executed prisoners and only use those voluntarily donated and allocated through a fledging national system, said Huang Jiefu, a former deputy health minister who heads the organ transplant reform.

The supply of human organs falls far short of demand in China due in part to a traditional belief that bodies should be buried or cremated intact. An estimated 300,000 patients are wait-listed every year for organ transplants, and only about one in 30 ultimately receives a transplant.

That shortage has driven a trade in illegal organ trafficking, and in 2007 the government banned transplants from living donors, except spouses, blood relatives and step- or adopted family members.

Huang, an Australian-trained transplant surgeon, admitted the problem of an organ black market was not something China would be able to easily resolve.

"The illegal trade of human organs will be inevitable in Chinese society in the years to come. The huge demand for organs is one of the causes. As long as there's a gap between supply and demand, illegal organ trafficking won't disappear, but the government will continue to crack down on it," he told Reuters.

Beijing said in August it would begin to phase out the practice of using executed prisoners' organs this month. Huang did not give an exact date for a ban on their use.

"Using executed prisoners' organs for transplants does not meet with the ethical standards universally accepted, and has always received criticism from the international community," Huang told a meeting of health and hospital officials in the eastern city of Hangzhou. "China's organ transplant reform is the government's political commitment to the people, and the world."