Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taiwanese Doctors, Chinese Organ Harvesting

There are things that are so terrible, and yet so outlandish, that the mind rejects them as impossible -- not based on any review of evidence or testimony, but because they threaten to upset the easygoing apple carts of everyday assumption. As Ethan Gutmann reminds in this penetrating, deeply moving article on organ harvesting in China:
For various reasons, some valid, some shameful, the credibility of persecuted refugees has often been doubted in the West. In 1939, a British Foreign Office official, politely speaking for the majority, described the Jews as not, perhaps, entirely reliable witnesses. During the Great Leap Forward, emaciated refugees from the mainland poured into Hong Kong, yammering about deserted villages and cannibalism. Sober Western journalists ignored these accounts as subjective and biased.
The banal Molochs of mechanized holocaust are operating again, miraculously transmuting the dying of healthy young people into a living for organ transplant doctors -- and a life for the unhealthy wealthy. Gutmann writes:
Taiwanese doctors who arranged for patients to receive transplants on the mainland claim that there was no oversight of the system, no central Chinese database of organs and medical histories of donors, no red tape to diminish medical profits. So the real question was, at $62,000 for a fresh kidney, why would Chinese hospitals waste any body they could get their hands on?

Yet what initially drew most fire from skeptics was the claim that organs were being harvested from people before they died. For all the Falun Gong theatrics, this claim was not so outlandish either. Any medical expert knows that a recipient is far less likely to reject a live organ; and any transplant dealer will confirm that buyers will pay more for one. Until recently, high volume Chinese transplant centers openly advertised the use of live donors on their websites.

It helps that brain death is not legally recognized in China; only when the heart stops beating is the patient actually considered dead. That means doctors can shoot a prisoner in the head, as it were, surgically, then remove the organs before the heart stops beating. Or they can administer anesthesia, remove the organs, and when the operation is nearing completion introduce a heart-stopping drug--the latest method. Either way, the prisoner has been executed, and harvesting is just fun along the way. In fact, according to doctors I have spoken to recently, all well versed in current mainland practices, live-organ harvesting of death-row prisoners in the course of execution is routine.

The real problem was that the charges came from Falun Gong--always the unplanned child of the dissident community. Unlike the Tiananmen student leaders and other Chinese prisoners of conscience who had settled into Western exile, Falun Gong marched to a distinctly Chinese drum. With its roots in a spiritual tradition from the Chinese heartland, Falun Gong would never have built a version of the Statue of Liberty and paraded it around for CNN. Indeed, to Western observers, Falun Gong public relations carried some of the uncouthness of Communist party culture: a perception that practitioners tended to exaggerate, to create torture tableaux straight out of a Cultural Revolution opera, to spout slogans rather than facts.
It is a long article, burning with a barely concealed outrage tethered by journalistic habit and a grim wit, but it should be read. And brought to the attention of the highest levels of the State Department and the incoming Obama Administration. For how many more times must the St. Louis be refused to dock? Listen as he speaks....

Liu Guifu is a 48-year-old woman recently arrived in Bangkok. She got a soup-to-nuts physical--really a series of them--in Beijing Women's Labor Camp in 2007. She was also diagnosed as schizophrenic and possibly given drugs.

But she remembers her exams pretty well. She was given three urine tests in a single month. She was told to drink fluids and refrain from urinating until she got to the hospital. Was this testing for diabetes or drugs? It can't be ruled out. But neither can kidney-function assessment. And three major blood samples were drawn in the same month, at a cost of about $1,000. Was the labor camp concerned about Liu's health? Or the health of a particular organ? Perhaps an organ that was being tissue-matched with a high-ranking cadre or a rich foreign customer?

The critical fact is that Liu was both a member of a nontransformed Falun Gong brigade with a history of being used for organs and was considered mentally ill. She was useless, the closest approximation we have to a nameless practitioner, one of the ones who never gave their names or provinces to the authorities and so lost their meager social protections.

There were certainly hundreds, perhaps thousands, of practitioners identified by numbers only. I've heard that number two hundred and something was a talented young female artist with nice skin, but I don't really know. None of them made it out of China alive.

None of them likely will. Tibetan sources estimate that 5,000 protesters disappeared in this year's crackdown. Many have been sent to Qinghai, a potential center of organ harvesting. But that's speculative. Both the Taiwanese doctors who investigate organ harvesting and those who arrange transplants for their Taiwanese patients agree on one point: The closing ceremony of the Olympics made it once again open season for harvesting.

Some in the human rights community will read that last assertion with skepticism. Until there is countervailing evidence, however, I'll bet on bargain-basement prices for organs in China. I confess, I feel a touch of burnout myself at this thought. It's an occupational hazard.

It's why I told that one-night-in-Bangkok joke to get you to read beyond the first paragraph. Yet what's really laughable is the foot-dragging, formalistic, faintly embarrassed response of so many to the murder of prisoners of conscience for the purpose of harvesting their organs. That's an evil crime.

I emailed Gutmann about his interviews with the Taiwanese doctors who have an intimate knowledge of this trade, and he said:
According to our interviews (Ethan Gutmann and Leeshai Lemish) from July 2008 for my forthcoming book: Resurrection: the Untold Story of the Clash between Falun Gong and the Chinese State--from 1995-1999 about 100 Taiwanese patients were going to China each year for kidney transplants. The boom starts around 2000, hitting about 360 per year by 2002. It slows down for SARS, but by 2005 about 450 people went from Taiwan to China to do kidney or liver transplants. By July 2008, the price had pretty much doubled. According to the Taiwanese doctors who often go to China and interact with the doctors there: If there is no international pressure, after the Olympics the price will go back down to "normal" levels--just too much of a profit to be made for mainland doctors."
Gutmann refers to the work of Canadian MPs Kilgour and Matas, whose excellent website on the topic of organ harvesting, complete with their report, is here.

Read it. And weep.


Tommy said...

"brought to the attention of the highest levels of the State Department and the incoming Obama Administration"

Remember that the holocaust was known about or at least suspected by US intelligence before the US entered the war.

My guess is that the State Department is well aware of this. And Obama will be too, but he will do nothing about it. Too many people have sold their souls for
the money and the political cooperation of the Chinese state, which is why I am so pessimistic about Taiwan's prospects.

Tragic, but nobody in power wants to do anything about it.

dearpeter said...

Hi Michael. Nice to see you posted about this. I'm too busy to read your blog much, though I used to read it a lot more often in the past. I barely ever even post on Forumosa anymore.

I have a Google Alert on the tags 'organ harvesting' and 'kilgour.' It picked up your entry here.

I've been concerned about this issue for years now. It really bugs me that humans have a sad tenedency to shy away from anything that smells like an atrocity. This is why crimes against humanity happen I think - because most people will refuse to believe it until it becomes "common knowledge." It makes for hard work by those who refuse to listen to fear more closely than to logic and rational analysis.

I find the conclusions of the Kilgour Matas report to be almost entirely convincing. And I HAVE read all the strongest rebuttals to it that I can find.

Keep up the good work.

-Peter Dearman

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Peter. I found Kilgour and Matas totally convincing as well. Thomas, commenting above, is right. The US government must know, and yet doesn't speak.



Anonymous said...

The article and the report linked to in the post are among the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s not Rwanda or the Holocaust, but this is class-based predation that goes beyond even slavery. No matter that many Falun practitioners are themselves middle-class: it’s the buying-power of rich Chinese and middle-and-upper-class Westerners and East Asians that permit this to happen.

But is there really nothing that can be done? While what goes on in China between Chinese is beyond international control, why would it be so difficult, politically, to almost entirely shut off the flow of customers from Taiwan, the U.S., and just about any other nation, too? What large economic interests would seek to prevent passage of a law that forbids own-national doctors from assisting patients in obtaining transplants in China until such time as China might establish a donor-consent procedure that is transparent and verifiable by an international agency that is allowed real investigative wherewithal? How many customers, Taiwanese, American, or of any other nationality, and how many families of customers, would be willing to navigate the usually-extortionate and often shoddy Chinese medical system without having in the background an own-doctor to whom Chinese doctors and administrators feel accountable?

It’s ironic that China’s government and so many of her people keep calling the Japanese out for their barbaric medical experiments on Chinese during World War II when the government itself is now doing the same things to some of its own citizens. Remove the customer security that the own-physician provides China’s foreign customers; the cannibalism will then be reduced and China will be left to stand in further high-profile shame as a nation that has found yet another way to engage in barbarous, pre-Pleistocene behavior.

Maybe foreign customers (especially Taiwanese) don’t rely on own-doctors as much as I suppose, but I would not despair, Peter. Gutmann’s forthcoming book will help, I’m sure. Until I read the article and the report, I kept what little I knew of the Falun stories filed away in my mind as likely true but probably much exaggerated – and therefore fodder for half-hearted, not-very-funny jokes. And the same as I’m now not shying away from this despairing news, I think many others will not shy away either – probably simply because there’s a somatic reaction to the idea of with having organs removed; one does not have to will oneself to visualize the atrocities as with Darfur and so many other cases.

I think legislatures in many nations will eventually be willing to act and force legislation, no matter what state departments, foreign ministries and heads of government might wish; and I don’t think even Americans would be able to find a way to make this issue partisan. Further, I don’t think even China is capable of twisting logic enough to try to make a case that other countries’ laws for their own physicians and citizens on an issue like this constitutes “interference in China’s internal affairs.” About all they could do is cry unfair trade practices.

Imagine: China taking this issue to the WTO.

Tommy said...

The issue, Vin, is that this involves the Falun Gong. You are right that no nation should have a problem enacting the legislation you suggest. But a consensus needs to be built in the nation on a topic that China screams about as a national security issue. The problem has to be so evident that everyone accepts it as a fact and clamours for something to be done. The problem is that the Falun Gong is an interested party with its own history of exaggerating the truth. Therefore, it is too easy to dismiss them without doing research to verify their claims. And the moment such research begins, the Chinese will begin to hew and hollar.

I wonder sometimes when the point will come that the rest of the world will get tired of shrill Chinese complaints.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I agree with you in regard to public attitudes toward the Falun Gong, and I confess that when I put up my comment above, I had not noticed that the telephone transcripts in the Canadian MPs’ report were not the work of their own staff but of FG investigators. So the objectivity and truth of evidence with regard to the FG is of course open to serious question.
But isn’t all of that, including whether the story of a concentration-camp organ-farm at Sujiatan is true, irrelevant with regard to whether or not extra-judicial murder is being committed on a mass scale? And to whether or not donor consent is truly voluntary? Focusing on truth or fabrication with regard to Falun Gong claims is a red herring if the goal is to reduce the extra-judicial murder and the violation of human rights (involuntary donation) that is occurring with judicially executed persons.
Maybe my definition doesn’t match official jargon, but I’m calling executions beyond the number China officially announces extra-judicial murder. And one need only look at transplant-patient waiting times to realize that such murder not only is happening on a very large scale, but that it’s specifically attuned to serving transplant entrepreneurism.
There are effective ways to mostly end the stream of international customers to China, and these ways don’t require the approval and help of the U.S. state department or any of the rest of the incoming Obama administration. They require rather that (a) pressure be put on medical societies to establish stringent and clear ethics policies for transplant-patient referrals to China and for collaboration on research with Chinese medical researchers, and, if necessary (b) that individual legislatures or else extraterritorial agreement (as with pedophile sex tourism) strengthen these policies with the force of law. As the Canadian MPs’ report makes evident, stringent and clear ethics policies do not currently exist (, so I agreed with Peter’s point above that the biggest problem is that the public shies away from knowing about atrocities until they are common knowledge – that the real problem is making these crimes common knowledge.

I cannot imagine that this would be so difficult, though – if the Falun Gong claims are viewed as a side issue and if waiting times, announced numbers of transplants, official Chinese figures on executions, lack of verified donor consent, and loose medical-society transplant-related ethics with regard to China are placed squarely in the spotlight. I think that given wider public knowledge of these things, the U.S. Congress would act and so would many other nation’s legislatures and health ministries, separately or in concert, if necessary --- if medial societies themselves don’t take the initiative to do enough on their own to curb non-Chinese involvement in these crimes against humanity.

But if you feel I’m missing something in thinking this angle and approach would be effective, please tell me, because I’m certainly not interested in winning any arguments here. I’d simply like to figure out what measures can be taken to reduce the slaughter. And if there are none currently available, then there are none. But so far, this still looks to me like an approach that is likely to be effective. Am I missing or misjudging some things?

Anonymous said...

murder is murder and when it is done by state it is legal murder.

should any government condone it is morally wrong no matter where.

government is by the people, for the people...

bobby fletcher said...

Michael, Beagle (yes we've crossed path elsewhere), Falun Gong's organ allegation David Kilgour and David Matas are promoting, has long been discredited.

- Most recently by the Ottawa Citizen:

- Undercover investigation by US State Dept: (section CRS-7)

- Undercover investigation by Chinese dissidnet Harry Wu:


Charles Liu
Community Activist
Seattle, WA

Anonymous said...

List the names of the doctors you know. These are serious accusations, if you are really against it, act.

What gives Taiwanese doctors the right to abuse Chinese people this way?

If you have facts, names, then you can publish them.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am not buying anything that was made in China and I'm making sure the stores know it. I may be just one person, but I believe I can make a difference -- one store, one conversation, one email at a time...

Each of us has this responsibility to humanity. Let's live up to it.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago, a groundbreaking investigative report by two high-profile Canadian lawyers raised the horrific possibility that tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience in China were being killed so their organs could be sold in lucrative transplant deals. To date China's communist government has done little to dispute the report's findings, evidence of its accuracy.