Australian National University conducted a study into thousands of medical papers from China that revealed the country’s covert organ harvesting operations. China is one of the leading countries in the world for short organ transplant waiting lists despite low numbers of voluntary organ donors.
Transplant waiting lists for countries such as the UK and United States are in months and years, while China’s waiting list is only a matter of weeks.
In China, it is completely legal to harvest the organs from executed prisoners and has been since 1984, but now human rights activists have raised concerns about operations on living prisoners.
Under the 1984 law, the prisoners due to be executed had to give prior consent to organ donation or the organs could be harvested if no one came to claim the body.
However, in 2019, an international tribunal concluded China had been removing organs from prisoners by force, which was fervently denied by China.
Mathew Robertson from the University concluded it is highly likely that some prisoners in China were operated on while alive and the majority of them would have been from marginalised political groups.
Human rights activists said that the evidence from the Australian study “tells a terrible tale of murder and mutilation in China” and that the stories are “almost too dreadful to believe”.
The report published in the American Journal of Transplantation aimed to determine if prisoners were classified as ‘brain dead’ before the operation to remove their organs began.
Mr Robertson wrote: “Our concern is whether the transplant surgeons establish first that the prisoners are dead before procuring their hearts and lungs.”
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Mr Robertson declared that the findings of his study may be the “tip of the iceberg and that many more people may have been executed through the organ retrieval process.”
He added: “We think that our failure to identify more brain death declarations violations relates to the difficulty of detecting them in the first instance, not to the absence of actual brain-dead death declarations violations in either the literature of the practice.”
The study suggests that this practice has been continuing for over thirty years and aside from hearts and lungs, kidneys and livers are thought to also have been harvested.