More Questions than Answers: The Mysterious Death of Tenzin Delek and the Handling of his Corpse

It is no secret that Chinese Communist Party authorities routinely treat deceased prisoners inhumanely. Involuntary organ harvesting from executed prisoners is well documented and has been widespread throughout China for at least a decade. Although the Party announced in late 2014 that it would end involuntary organ harvesting from prisoners by 2015, testimony seems to surface everyday confirming that organ harvesting continues. Accordingly, the mysterious death of imprisoned Tibetan spiritual leader Tenzin Delek and his quick cremation raises concerns about the treatment of his corpse.

Generally, organs are harvested from executed prisoners, not those who die in captivity. Moreover, the corpses of prisoners whose organs were harvested are generally cremated before family members can inspect the body for telltale signs of an organ harvest. Given these two generalities, it seems unlikely that Tenzin Delek’s organs were harvested.

The mystery surrounding Tenzin Delek’s death and cursory family inspection, however, still leaves many questions unanswered. For example, how did he die? According to ABC Australia, Party authorities have yet to release a cause of death. This fact, coupled with a report that Tenzin Delek’s mouth and fingernails were blackened, leads many to believe he was deliberately murdered by prison authorities. If Tenzin Delek was deliberately murdered, or executed for those unconcerned with semantics, is it possible that his organs were harvested? According to reports, his corpse was viewed by a select number of loved ones, although it is unclear if his corpse was inspected in detail for missing organs. Although most organ harvested corpses are never viewed by loved ones before cremation, it is certainly possible that Party authorities could allow a cursory inspection of Tenzin Delek’s body by loved ones and adequately conceal any sign of organ harvesting.




The first step of organ harvesting is to check the health condition of the organ. If the source is human, most countries require that the source is legally dead for organ transplantation purposes (e.g. cardiac or brain dead) or a voluntary healthy adult for the donation of some organs. Organs cannot be harvested after heart stops beating for a long time. Thus, a brain dead donor is preferred, but only a small percentage of deaths are brain deaths. Therefore, the majority of human organ sources are post cardiac death.