Thursday, June 15, 2006
Ailing Americans seek Chinese organs
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.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 7:01 PM ET
  24 Comments
People looking for transplants need to realize that they are causing someone else's death. Once a match is made between a "buyer" and prisoner it is safe to assume that the execution date is then set to coincide with the arrival of the "buyer".
Posted By Anonymous Larry Wurtsboro, NY : 7:42 PM ET
It's too easy.
Message: we need x livers, x hearts, x kidneys...willing to pay huge sums...can you supply?
Answer: give me 48 hours and you'll have them.
Ruthless men think nothing of sacrificing others, innocent or not, to pad their wallets. Greed and money-lust has subverted all true values to become the single gold standard for determining behaviors. These men will have their reward.
What can we...the average citizens...do about this?
The answer is readily apparent: DONATE
When you're no longer living on this planet, you won't need the stuff anyway.
You can't take it with you...don't let it disintegrate and return to dust when you could earmark your functioning organs you no longer need to give life to another living being.
Posted By Anonymous Anne Brown, Jacksonville, FL : 7:45 PM ET
I think the last statment is the most disturbing. Taking organs from prisoners without consent is wrong, but why ban the sale of organs? If a person wants to sell a kidney, it's THEIR BUSINESS! Who are we to deny these people a chance at life because payment for organs makes us queasy?
Posted By Anonymous Mike Moeller, Carmel, IN : 7:45 PM ET
This may sound controversial, but I think America should move to automatic donation. Everyone who dies in prison or in a hospital automatically donates all internal organs unless the family signs an objection form. Permission needs to be obtained for any parts of the person that would prevent a normal funeral.

If we did this, we would eliminate the harrowing event of asking people in the fresh stages of grief about organ donation from the person they just lost, and virtually eliminate the black market in organs.
Posted By Anonymous kms, los angeles ca : 7:48 PM ET
Hi Randi,
Just when I think I've heard it all, here comes some more..I feel for the people who need an organ donation to live..The last thing they need is a diseased or suspect organ. I hope your reports will get the word out loud and clear..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 7:55 PM ET
For families or individuals who are facing certain death (which, let's face it, is what happens when you go on the waiting list), this is their only hope for survival and I understand why they do it.

What I want to know is, is the Chinese government executing people guilty of white collar crimes specifically for their organs, or are they capitalizing on the organs of people who they would kill anyway? If the prisoners are going to be executed regardless, why not give their organs to someone who needs them?
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Baltimore, MD : 7:58 PM ET
You're talking about prisoners in a faraway land, and many may say, "Who cares?" However, everyone should note this statement that you made: "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 know at least one person in the U.S. (where I'm from) who refuses to be an organ donor for this very fear. My personal feeling is that transplanting parts is probably beyond what humans should be doing to each other in the first place, especially when you consider what scientists and doctors do to animals in order to reach the point of working on humans.
Posted By Anonymous Gypsy, an American in Mexico : 7:58 PM ET
I had a kidney transplant almost 6 years ago, and I'm outraged that such things happen, and Americans pay money to get the organs. I waited for 8 years for a kidney, and that was not easy. In Iran, young people sell their kidneys in order to buy a car!! It's unbelievable, but it's true. I know someone who did that a few years ago, and now is being treated at Cedar Cinai Medical Center.
Posted By Anonymous Alina Khachatouri, Reseda, California : 8:00 PM ET
I think its great if a dying person can give consent to donate his organs after his death. I hope that in USA people start to do that, atleast those who have received any organ or blood donation themselves. God will also reward them for this courage (for those who believe in ultimate truth, God).
Posted By Anonymous Nathan, San Jose, CA : 8:02 PM ET
Why not?
Posted By Anonymous John, Wheeling, Illinois : 8:06 PM ET
This is horrible. I first heard of these atrocities a few years ago, but to think that people are paying for these organs is unbelievable. Granted, I've never been put in the position to need an organ transplant to live, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't use that option, having the knowledge of the methods used to obtain some of these organs. Taking organs from a dead donor is one thing...ripping them out of a living, breathing human being is quite another. I'm willing to bet that if the recipients had to watch the organs being obtained in that manner, that they would have a change of heart. At least, I hope they would.
Posted By Anonymous James, Phoenix, AZ : 8:14 PM ET
This is sick sickening reminder of what China is about � using their 1 billon plus people as a factory to turn a profit. China truly represents unbridled capitalism's at its worst face- Pollution, Exploitation, and Misuse of Power. From factory cities using orphan girls (12 to a room 18 hour days) to organ theft. But what's the worst part? Americans are buying it up. Has anyone ever thought about the consequences of your Walmart blue jeans (which cost less than they did 15 years ago)? And what's next? How about a so called communist country telling us what our interests should be because they now hold our war debt. And who is talking about this travesty? BTW what was the point of Mao's cultural revolution? Where are our elected representatives?
Posted By Anonymous Jeffrey Michaels, San Jose CA : 8:15 PM ET
How despicable and unforgivable this is. Does the recipient value his/her life enough to accept an organ from, say, an innocent person who is murdered for money? How does one know it won't come to this?

I was diagnosed some years back with an incurable disease, very little chance that I would survive long enough for a transplant. (The waiting period for lung transplants is five years.) Worse, I would require the lungs of a child as I am rather petite. No, thank you. I could never live with that, knowing a child died while I lived. Better to give them to another child or younger person.

Someone I met in therapy was also needing a transplant from a child. She had her surgery two years ago and is now completely free of her disease.

How are the doctors and recipients determining that these organs are disease free and viable? Or are they even bothering?

This entire situation is very disturbing.
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, Mo. : 8:19 PM ET
My younger brother died waiting for a kidney transplant. I searched for available organs all over the world and learned about the "sale" of organs from executed prisoners in China. My brother chose not to got that route but instead to wait in line in the US in order to ensure American medical coverage. My brother died before he advanced to the front of the line. Nevertheless, the international search made me realize that American attitudes regarding the "sale" of organs --- that is, no willing buyer or seller legally can have a meeting of the minds --- leaves desperately ill people at the mercy of shady sellers of foreign organs or simply in God's hands.
It seems to me that we must develop a better system of obtaining organs. Not only should people be willing to donate organs, but where potential sellers from any part of the world are not coerced they should have the right to bargain away a spare organ. Our morality is not served by sentencing to death or deceit those who cannot otherwise find an organ.
I hope no one has to endure what my younger brother endured. But unfortunately until there are enough organ donors or until medicine can devise artificial mechanisms, many will continue to die waiting.
Posted By Anonymous Mark Moorstein, Manassas, Virginia : 8:23 PM ET
I'm not really surprised by this but before we stand atop of our moral high ground ask yourself when is the last time you heard of a celebrity or wealthy American dying because there wasn't an transplant candidate available ?

If Americans can use their wealth and influence to push ahead of the line here in our country are we in any postion to stand in the way of people who are forced to seek such desperate measures ?
Posted By Anonymous Sonny, Canton, Mi : 8:25 PM ET
What a terrible situation? As scientific advances make such things possible, it becomes a blessing for those needing organs when the process is done with the consent of the donor.

But we lose our humanity when we relegate a select group of people to a status where they are thought of only in economic terms.

One never knows to what lengths they will go in order to survive, but I hope if I am even in such a situation, my humanity prevails.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 8:29 PM ET
Brain transplant?
Posted By Anonymous Wintermute, Memphis, TN : 8:37 PM ET
I think it's disgusting that people are told 'we aren't going to even try to help you because we don't think you will survive'. That's giving up any hope.

I moved to Canada in 1999 from the England and I want to be able to give blood, but because I lived in England at the time of the mad cow disease crisis, I am not allowed. How many people need blood each year? I can help, but they won't let me. It's not that hard to check my blood to see if it is good enough to use. If it's there, why not use it.
I believe the same for the chinese. Even if they are in jail, and are going to be executed, why not use their organs. It's better to try and save someones life, rather than let the parts go to waste. However I do believe that it should not, under any circumstances occur while the person is still alive. Thats torture.

But in conclusion, why should we let people die when we havent exhausted all means to try and help them survive?
Posted By Anonymous Kirsty Sedon, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland : 8:44 PM ET
The point of this story: it should not be surprising that dying people are desperate for any help to stay alive. Apparently China is providing them an alterative to death. Regardless of how unethical China may be, I suggest that efforts should be directed at changing our laws to make organs available to U.S. citizens so they do not face such choices in the future. The current system allows people to take their organs to the grave and seems inherently unfair: people DIE daily because others are "uncomfortable" with organ donation. The solution: simply make the default position that people are organ donors unless they specify ahead of time they don't want to be (the opposite of the current system - non-organ donation cards). This would ensure that plenty of organs are available. The only catch for those not willing to donate their organs after death: they can't be organ recipents either. Particpate fully or not at all.
Posted By Anonymous Gary Hals, Columbia, SC : 8:51 PM ET
hell get what you can whereever and however you can. they were sentenced to die anyway. who should start following some of their examples. such as limiting sizes of families etc.
Posted By Anonymous robert buss eugene or. : 8:51 PM ET
Well, I don't particularly blame China for taking the organs from their prisoners.

I mean, they're going to be killed either way right? If the prisoners are prefectly healthy, and they're on death row, why would you let needed organs go to waste when hundreds of American citizens are in desperate need of them?

Either way, China is a Communist country, the government can do what they want.
Posted By Anonymous Kennfer. New York, New York. : 8:54 PM ET
Wow. This was predicted in 1967 in Larry Niven's now-classic short story, Jigsaw Man. In his story, though, demand for organs for transplant became so high that more and more crimes started carrying the death penalty to increase the supply of available organs. The story's protagonist was in jail awaiting his execution for the crime of having too many traffic tickets.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 8:57 PM ET
The removal of organs even before a prisoner dies? This is just wrong and barbaric. Even if it's to save another's life, no one should die like this.
Posted By Anonymous CKwan, Haverhill MA : 9:15 PM ET
Like most people who have responded to the report from China, we were horrified to hear about the gross lack of respect to humanity. The fact is the sale of organs is prohibited by law in the United States. Anyone found purchasing organs from China, or anywhere else, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The solution, as has been pointed out by others on this site, is to increase the number of voluntary organ donors. Each organ donor can save up to eight lives!

To increase organ donation among the Chinese community in New York City, my organization, the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, is participating in a three-year grant with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Organ Donor Network. We have been encouraged to learn that once people are able to separate myth from fact about donation, they are much more likely to give the Gift of Life. The more that choose to donate, the fewer opportunities there will be for others to blatantly transgress the law and abuse the rights of others.

Regina Lee
Posted By Anonymous Regina Lee, New York, NY : 5:31 PM ET
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