Ending 'Vampire' Tourism in China

Did Beijing just take China off the “vampire” tourism circuit? And end state-sanctioned mass murder?

Last Wednesday, the official China Daily reported the launch of pilot projects in ten areas that will eventually lead to a nationwide organ-donation system. The system is intended to stop “transplant tourism,” which in recent years has created an outcry among Chinese citizens who have seen foreign “vampires” troll their country for body parts, easily outbidding locals for transplants.

Health Vice-Minister Huang Jiefu, at the time he announced the pilot projects, indicated that China is getting out of the business of taking organs from executed prisoners. Such individuals, Huang said, are “definitely not a proper source for organ transplants.”

If officials stop taking kidneys and livers from the corpses of the executed, there will be no Chinese organs available to anyone, whether foreign tourist or Chinese citizen. China Daily, in a statement that caught the world’s attention, noted that 65 percent of donors are executed prisoners. That was a surprising admission, but the real figure is somewhere over 99 percent.

That’s the conclusion of one of China’s leading transplant surgeons, Chen Zhonghua of Tongji Hospital in the central city of Wuhan. But you don’t need to be an eminent doctor to come to this conclusion. By the end of last year, Vice-Minister Huang said Chinese hospitals had performed 102,342 organ transplants. Yet since 2003, only 130 people signed up to be donors. There are also donations from relatives and others -- supposedly strictly controlled by law -- but the remainder of the organs had to come from somewhere.

“Once a court agrees,the doctors can go to the execution field, wait in a sterile van, and harvest the organ right after the execution,” said one transplant doctor to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post in 2006. “Such experiences are a severe moral and mental shock to many surgeons, because the prisoners do not usually die immediately after they are shot. But surgeons have to act quickly to get the organs due to freshness requirements.” As this transplant surgeon explained, “To some extent, the doctors are part of the execution.”

Just “some extent”? Doctors are in fact killing individuals for their organs, and the Chinese state is participating in nothing less than mass murder. Amnesty International reports there were 1,718 reported executions in China last year. Observers state that most executions are not reported and that the real annual number is closer to 6,000. This is a ghastly practice -- perhaps “enterprise” is a better term -- that goes on year after year after year.