Organ Harvesting

The roughly ten thousand organ transplant surgeries performed annually in China makes it the world’s second leading transplant destination as measured by the number of procedures conducted, trailing only the United States. Many of these surgeries are performed on foreigners who come to China for organ transplants because of the relative short waiting period, often only weeks long. Despite such impressive statistics, China’s nascent organ donation system was only established in 2013, and the rate of organ donation from the general public remains extraordinarily low. These circumstances raise troubling questions: Where do these organs come from, and why is the waiting time so short?

Here are some basic facts:

  • The majority of organs used in transplant surgeries in China are harvested from executed prisoners;
  • China executes several thousand people on an annual basis;
  • Chinese law sanctions the use of prisoners’ organs for use in transplant operations;
  • Executed prisoners rarely consent to donating their organs;
  • The waiting time for an organ transplant largely depends on how much one is willing to pay.

Noteworthy aspects of the organ harvesting process include the following:

  • Thousands of people are given the death penalty annually. One incentive for issuing the death penalty is the monetary gain resulting from organ extraction;  
  • Prisoners unknowingly receive blood tests while on death row in order to determine whether they are suitable organ donors;
  • Testimonies from doctors show that some death row inmates are coerced into giving consent to organ donation;
  • Medical vans transport hospital staff to the execution scene. Immediately following the executions, doctors and hospital personnel are ordered to quickly remove organs from executed prisoners. Organs are put in containers and transferred to the hospital, where patients await transplantation surgery;
  • First-hand witness accounts show that in some cases, executioners intentionally botch executions in order to preserve organ freshness, leaving the prisoner alive during organ extraction;
  • The government withholds information regarding the time and location of executions in order to prevent families from seeing the corpses of executed prisoners. This helps conceal the practice of organ harvesting by keeping families in the dark.

Over the past half century, on an annual basis, China has executed several times more people than the rest of the world combined. Organs harvested from untold tens or even hundreds of thousands of executed prisoners have provided China’s organ transplant system with an ample supply of organs. This state-run system has generated staggering profits for government officials. The scale, nature and scope of human rights abuses perpetrated by this system are unique to China. We hope that shedding light on this dark reality facilitates the development of an ethical organ donation system and provides solace to those who have suffered. 

Please see our comprehensive report the practice of using organs from executed prisoners for transplant here.