Are political prisoners in China being killed for their organs? Dateline has a special investigation into disturbing claims over the use of live donors in the country’s transplant trade.
10,000 organs are transplanted in China every year, yet there are only a tiny number of people on the official donor register.
It’s become a destination for people wanting to avoid waiting lists and get a quick transplant. The industry is said to be worth a billion dollars.
But where are the organs coming from?
“Somebody’s being killed for the organ,” human rights lawyer David Matas says. “There’s no other way to explain what’s happening.”
He and fellow Nobel Peace Prize nominee, lawyer and politician David Kilgour, have spent years investigating organ trafficking in China.
They believe some of the organs come from members of the Falun Gong movement – a quasi-religious group with millions of followers, which is banned by the Chinese Government.
“Falun Gong, before it was repressed was very popular in China,” David Matas says. “It’s estimated, according to government of China statistics, between 70 and 100 million people, which was then more than the membership of the Communist Party of China.”
Investigators claim thousands of them have been detained by authorities.
“I testify to the atrocious crime that the hospital committed in removing livers and corneas from living Falun Gong members,” says former worker Annie.
“Some of them were still alive when they were secretly burnt in the incinerator that was in the boiler room.”
Her husband at the time was a surgeon responsible for removing organs. They fled China to escape the work, but he then faced an attempt to kill him.
“Some people in the hospital knew about this, but they were too afraid of being killed to speak up,” she says.
David Matas believes such evidence is the only way of explaining the fast availability of organs.
“Everywhere else in the world it would be months and years,” he says. “When you book a transplant in advance, for a heart transplant, and you go to China and you get a transplant within a few days.”
“I went to the mainland on 25 June. So I waited two to three weeks,” says patient Rourou Zhuang.
She travelled from Taiwan for a kidney transplant, but only found out later that her donor could potentially have been killed to order.
“I was totally shocked to find out about the source,” she says. “I also feel very sad I participated in that. So I thought I should tell my story to let the public know.”
The Chinese Government wouldn’t appear on camera for Dateline’s program, but it refutes the claims.
“The main source of our organs is from death row prisoners,” Health Minister Jiefu Huang has said previously in an interview with state television.
However, the Chinese Government did make its own documentary challenging evidence gathered from undercover phone calls for the program.
One doctor, Lu Guoping, replies ‘that’s right’ when asked by an investigator posing as a patient if the organs come from Falun Gong members.
But the same doctor has a different response in the government film.
“I told her that I had never been involved in transplant surgery. I couldn’t answer her, as I didn’t know how they got the organs,” he says.
Laws banning transplant tourism to China are already in place in Israel and Spain and are being debated in many other countries.
China has also faced heavy criticism from the UN over the use of death row prisoners for organs, but the human rights lawyers spearheading the investigation want much more action.
“We would like to see all the names of all the doctors that are involved go on a list,” David Kilgour says. “They would know that they have an excellent chance someday of facing the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
Watch the story in full above, plus filmmaker Leon Lee was online on Twitter during the program – read some of his responses to your questions.