China Will Quit Harvesting Organs From Executed Inmates, A Long-Awaited New Years' Resolution

If you are a fan of New Year's resolutions, hold on to your hat for this: China promised to stop harvesting organs of executed inmates on Jan. 1, 2015, effectively winning the Best New Year's Resolution for 2015 award. But whether or not the country will stick to it is another question — according to BBC News, it has been saying for years that it will end the practice.

Huang JieFu, the former deputy health minister and current head of the ministry's organ transplant office, said on Wednesday that close to 40 major transplant centers have already stopped using such organs, local media reported.

Harvesting executed prisoners' organs is deeply controversial. Although the move to stop the practice is lauded by human rights groups — who have previously cautioned that a possible effect was that the executions could be expedited — it will only worsen China's especially urgent shortage of donors. The country has one of the lowest rates of organ transplants — their donor scarcity is mostly due to cultural taboos and a negative perception of the procedure.

Although China already forbids organ donations sans the donor's or the family's consent, some people have said that inmates can face pressure to give their consent, and that supervision of the the source of organs is lacking.

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So where will patients get organs from? Efforts are already underway to change attitudes about organ transplants. State-run media cover donors and their accounts extensively, and three senior officials have recently promised to become donors, in the hopes that it will encourage party members to do the same. And officials have also put in place transplant reforms that allocate organs on the basis of urgency, compatibility and need.

However, doubts about whether China can wean off its heavy reliance on harvesting executed inmates' organs persist. A 2011 paper co-authored by Huang reported that around 65% of organs used in transplants were from deceased donors — more than 90% of whom were executed inmates.

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Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said that he was "extremely skeptical" about the country sticking to its promise in the foreseeable future. China's prisons and death penalty system are run in relative obscurity and the highly profitable organ peddling and corruption would make it "near impossible," he said, adding:

Many Chinese citizens would be unconvinced about voluntarily signing away their organs, even for altruistic (reasons).

But perhaps the tide is turning in Chinese society, as in a 2012 poll, out of 1,012 Guangzhou residents, 79% said that “organ donation after death is noble.” And Huang said that organs had been collected from 1,500 people this year who previously agreed to donate — in contrast with 1,448 voluntary donors in the past three years combined.

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