Friday, September 15, 2017

An optimistic view of transplants in China from the Washington Post

I've written a number of posts linking to optimistic stories about China's move away from using executed prisoners as sources of organs for transplants, and others expressing some skepticism. The Washington Post has some elements of reporting that indicates that they explored and discounted some of the reasons for skepticism, so I think this is the most credibly optimistic assessment I've seen to date.

Here's the Washington Post story:
China used to harvest organs from prisoners. Under pressure, that practice is finally ending.

"China had more than 600 organ transplant centers in a sprawling, unregulated system. That number was whittled down to about 160 registered and approved centers in 2007, when legislation was also introduced to outlaw organ trafficking and ban foreigners from coming to the country to receive Chinese organs.
"Chinese law does not explicitly rule out using organs of prisoners condemned to death by the criminal courts, and Huang himself was quoted in Chinese media in late 2014 and early 2015 as saying prisoners could “voluntarily” donate organs.
Huang now disavows those comments, insisting there is “zero tolerance” for using any prisoners’ organs in the hospital system. But in a country of 1.3 billion people, he said at a Vatican conference in February, “I am sure, definitely, there is some violation of the law.”
Lawyer Yu Wensheng said that one of his clients had shared a Beijing prison cell with a man facing the death penalty last November and that the condemned man was given a form to sign to “voluntarily” donate his organs.
Death-row prisoners, he said, were “given the choice not to sign the forms, but they would receive much more mistreatment and suffer much more. If they sign, their last days of life would pass more easily.”
Yet the supply of organs from executed prisoners seems to have been drying up because the number of death sentences appears to have fallen dramatically after a 2007 mandate requiring the Supreme Court to review all capital cases."
"Transplant patients must take immunosuppressant drugs for life to prevent their bodies from rejecting their transplanted organs. Data compiled by Quintiles IMS, an American health-care-information company, and supplied to The Post, shows China’s share of global demand for immunosuppressants is roughly in line with the proportion of the world’s transplants China says it carries out.
Xu Jiapeng, an account manager at Quintiles IMS in Beijing, said the data included Chinese generic drugs. It was “unthinkable,” he said, that China was operating a clandestine system that the data did not pick up.
Critics counter that China may also be secretly serving large numbers of foreign transplant tourists, whose use of immunosuppressant drugs would not appear in Chinese data. But this assertion does not stand up to scrutiny.
Jose Nuñez, head of the transplantation program at the World Health Organization, which collects information on transplants worldwide, says that in 2015 the number of foreigners going to China for transplants was “really very low,” compared with the traffic to India, Pakistan or the United States, or in comparison with transplant-visitor numbers in China’s past.
Chapman and Millis say it is “not plausible” that China could be doing many times more transplants than, for instance, the United States, where about 24,000 transplants take place every year, without that information leaking out as it did when China used condemned prisoners’ organs.
And lawyers who have defended Falun Gong practitioners also reject allegations that those prisoners’ organs are being harvested.
“I have never heard of organs being taken from live prisoners,” said Liang Xiaojun, who said he had defended 300 to 400 Falun Gong practitioners in civil cases and knew of only three or four deaths in prison.
In China, despite state repression, family members can be determined in speaking out and seeking justice when relatives vanish.
If tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were being executed every year, that information would emerge, experts say.
A U.S. congressional commission on China, the State Department and the Falun Gong community website have separately tried to estimate the number of political prisoners in China, and the figures range from 1,397 to “tens of thousands” — and even that upper number is significantly lower than the 500,000 to 1 million claimed by Gutmann and others."

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