There are 90,000 people waiting for organs in the United States. Many of them will die before they ever get close to a transplant. Eric DeLeon of San Mateo, California, did not want to be one of them.
Eric was diagnosed with liver cancer last year. Because he had nine tumors, he was taken off the U.S. transplant list. Doctors considered him a poor candidate for survival.
"I just knew that cancer was going to grow and spread throughout my body and I thought I would be another statistic," Eric told me recently.
So Eric and his wife Lori searched the Internet to check out other transplant options. He found a transplant service in China that promised to find him a healthy liver in a matter of weeks. Eric mortgaged his home and paid $110,000 for a new liver. Two weeks later, he arrived in Shanghai. A couple weeks after that, he had his new liver.
Eric is not alone in looking to China for a new organ. We're told that tens of thousands of foreigners are paying for transplant surgery in China. The problem is those organs may be cut from an executed death row prisoner without consent. That's not all. Some organs are said to have been removed before the prisoner took his last breath in order to keep the organs as fresh as possible.
"I can still hear the sounds of those people shouting when they're having their organs harvested while they are still alive," one former prisoner told me.
You're probably asking yourself by now: How is this allowed to happen?
Well, China executes more prisoners than all other nations combined. More than 4,700 men and women were executed in the last two years, according to Amnesty International. People there can be executed even for white collar crimes like tax fraud, embezzlement and bribery.
The harvesting method is cold and calculating: A single shot to the head if chest organs are needed; a shot to the body if the brain or eyes are needed. Recently, China started using "death vans" where lethal injection is administered on the road so all of the organs can be harvested.
Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, has written a letter to the President of China calling on him to put an end to this practice.
"That smacks of Nazism, when people were reduced to mere commodities that were wanted only for the organs they could provide," Smith told me.
China's deputy health minister acknowledges the organs are harvested from prisoners. But he says they are only harvested from those who give consent.
What constitutes consent? In the United States, death row prisoners are not allowed to donate organs because the government believes they can't freely give consent behind bars.
New York transplant surgeon Thomas Diflo calls what's happening in China a gross violation of human rights. He is refusing to treat people who have had surgery in China. He remembers the first time he heard about this from a patient. "I said, 'Where did you get your organ?' And she said, 'I got it from an executed prisoner.'"
The Chinese government refused our request for an interview, but issued a statement: "The reports about China's random transplant of organs from executed criminals are untrue and a malicious slander against [the] Chinese Judiciary System. ... In China, it is very prudent to use organs from death penalty criminals."
The government promises to change its transplant law July 1 by banning the sale of organs and limiting organ transplants. Critics doubt it will change much of anything for Chinese prisoners.