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Tool of genocide': Chinese government is forcibly removing organs from prisoners' bodies

Evidence suggests that execution by organ donation is part of a systematic campaign against people Beijing classifies as politically problematic.

By James S. Robbins

Opinion Columnist


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The leading medical transplant journal in the world recently made the case that Chinese prisoners are being forced to give up organs at the expense of their lives. The journal article carried this shocking headline – "Execution by organ procurement: Breaching the dead donor rule in China."

The authors, Matthew P. Robertson and Jacob Lavee, documented 71 cases, spread across China, where organ procurement likely occurred before brain death.

"In these cases, the removal of the heart during organ procurement must have been the proximate cause of the donor's death," Robertson and Lavee wrote. "Because these organ donors could only have been prisoners, our findings strongly suggest that physicians in the People's Republic of China have participated in executions by organ removal."

Congressional hearing explores forced organ donations

The grisly topic also was the subject last month of a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing, “Forced Organ Harvesting in China: Examining the Evidence." Commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said the practice of forced organ donation amounts to “a tool of genocide meant to cull minority populations deemed ‘undesirable’ by the State.”

Communist China has for years routinely harvested prisoners' organs. The top transplant doctor in China admitted in 2007 that “effectively 95% of all organ transplants were from prisoners,” Robertson and Lavee wrote.

New evidence suggests that execution by organ donation is a continuing part of the systematic campaign against Uyghurs, Falun Gong, Tibetans, Christians and other people Beijing classifies as politically problematic. Show less


International outcry forced a supposed change in the policy in 2015, but the Chinese Communist Party left open the possibility that condemned inmates might “voluntarily” donate organs.

In practice, prisoners who are earmarked for organ donation wind up condemned. New evidence suggests that execution by organ donation is a continuing part of the systematic campaign against Uyghurs, Falun Gong, Tibetans, Christians and other people Beijing classifies as politically problematic.

An estimated 25,000 to 50,000 inmates are allegedly murdered each year to harvest 50,000 to 150,000 organs. Ethan Gutmann, of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, revealed witness testimony that the harvesting operations focused on healthy prisoners ages 28 or 29. After extensive health checks and blood tests, individuals are “cross-matched for harvesting.” A week later, the selected inmates “vanished in the middle of the night.”

Surgeon gave graphic testimony

In last month's congressional hearing, Dr. Enver Tohti Bughda, a former surgeon from Xinjiang, gave graphic testimony of being forced to perform organ removal on an “executed” prisoner who was in fact still alive.

Robertson, who co-authored the transplant journal article, testified at the hearing that China is the "only country that has run what amounts to a state-sanctioned organ trafficking business out of its hospitals, while systematically using prisoners as the almost sole source of organs over many decades.”

Robertson also co-authored a study published in the respected BMC Medical Ethics journal that found data from the official China Organ Transplant Response System misclassified nonvoluntary organ donors as voluntary. In typical Orwellian doublespeak, those who are victimized are categorized as “citizen donors.”

Other investigations have reached the same conclusions about the prevalence of forced organ removal in China. In 2019, the independent China Tribunal reported to the United Nations that the sheer scale of the transplant industry and transplant tourism in China suggests that “prisoners of conscience have been killed ‘to order’ ” to supply the necessary organs.

The report quoted Zhu Jiaxin, a security official nicknamed "the Butcher" in the city of Mudanjiang, who said, “After slaughtering and opening up the belly, you just carve out the organs and sell them. … It is nothing – just like slaughtering pigs.”

Sir Geoffrey Nice, who chaired the China Tribunal and who also prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said, “There is a systematic program to kill people. They have willing doctors, an enormous medical infrastructure, and it is by all accounts a very lucrative business.”

The Chinese government's oppression can touch families even in the United States. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., addressed the fate of Falun Gong practitioner Deyong Zhou, father of his constituent You Zhou, who was abducted from his home in China and sent to a detention center, where he was held incommunicado without charges.

Zhou might be too old to be a candidate for forced organ extraction, but thousands of others are not so lucky.

James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and author of "This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive," is academic dean ad interim at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins


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