China has announced that it will phase out its ethically-questionable practice of harvesting organs from recently executed prisoners, and instead institute a voluntary organ donor system for the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants.
In 2012, 64 percent of organ transplants in China came from prisoners. Reuters claims that “Chinese view the practice as a way for criminals to redeem themselves,” but it’s gained widespread international criticism for, in the words of Chinese officials, “tarnishing the image of China.”
165 Chinese hospitals are licensed to carry out organ transplants; Huang Jiefu, who heads the country’s organ transplant office, said that the first batch of these hospitals will stop using organs from dead inmates by November (he didn’t specify how many were in this “first batch”).
"I am confident that before long all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs," he said. The trend lines are certainly running in that direction: The number of voluntarily donated and transplanted organs rose from just 63 in 2010 to over 900 this year.
There’s a significant shortage of organ donors in China: 300,000 people are wait-listed for organ transplants every year, and only one out of 30 ultimately receive a transplant.
The issue here has as much to do with China’s capital punishment policy as it does organ transplants. The country doesn’t reveal how often it carries out the death penalty, but most outside peg the number at around several thousand prisoners per year. Human rights groups have accused the country’s leadership of both denying fair trials to the accused and issuing death sentences to those convicted of non-violent crimes, primarily drug-related.