NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Harvesting Organs From Executed Prisoners

November 15, 2001

Kidneys, livers, corneas and other body parts from executed Chinese prisoners are being transplanted into American citizens or permanent residents, reports the New York Times. The practice of harvesting organs from dead prisoners is legal in China, Taiwan and some South American countries.

Some say it should be legalized in the United States; for instance, last year a state lawmaker in Florida introduced a bill to facilitate the transplant of organs from executed inmates.

  • More than 78,350 Americans are awaiting organ transplants, according to the nonprofit donor-matching group United Network for Organ Sharing.
  • About 50,000 of them need a kidney -- a number that is expected to double within the decade.
  • The wait for a kidney transplant stretches to six years or more in parts of the United States.

Most kidney transplant candidates must endure years of dialysis, and between 5 percent and 10 percent of dialysis patients die each year.

Doctors say the Chinese supply is growing just like the American demand.

  • This year, 5,000 prisoners or more are likely to be put to death during a nationwide anti-crime drive.
  • Government policy allows the harvesting if the prisoner or his family consents -- though the rules are often ignored and illegal harvesting tolerated.
  • Meanwhile, transplant centers have opened around China, where 35,000 kidney transplants have been performed since its first successful one in 1961.
  • Transplant centers have special wards for foreign patients, who pay up to 10 times as much as local patients (though still somewhat below the comparable cost in the U.S.).

Source: Craig S. Smith, "Doctors Worried as Americans Get Organs of Chinese Inmates," New York Times, November 11, 2001.


Browse more articles on Health Issues