Ending 'Vampire' Tourism in China

The Chinese central government’s pilot plan, unfortunately, is dead on arrival. Why? Some have pointed out that, culturally, the Chinese believe it is important to keep the body together after death. That is why eunuchs in imperial China kept their dismembered organs in jars so that they could be buried whole. Yet, as powerful as culture is, there are more powerful reasons why organ-donation plans will take a long time to catch on in the People’s Republic.

For one thing, ordinary Chinese know they are signing their own death warrants if they scribble their names on organ-donor cards. As it is, China’s hospitals are death houses. To boost profitability, Chinese doctors, as a matter of routine, perform unnecessary surgeries, prolong hospital stays, and prescribe unneeded medicines. The Chinese rightly believe that if patients give consent to doctors to take organs after death, the doctors will be tempted to kill them or allow them to die. Already, the organ trade is lucrative, but it will be incredibly so if the state means what it says about not harvesting organs from the newly executed.

The lack of trust between doctor and patient is just part of a broader issue in Chinese society. Citizens adored -- and therefore trusted -- Mao Zedong in the early years of the People’s Republic. Yet during the decade-long Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, neighbors were forced to snitch on their neighbors, husbands turned in their wives, and children reported their parents. The result is that the bond between the people and their leaders was broken and, more important, few Chinese trusted anyone else in society. At the same time, Communist rule sought to destroy the values that held China together for millennia. And on top of this, the Communist Party has become as corrupt as any ruling group in Chinese history and has permitted venality to spread throughout society. Who, in this environment, is going to trust that he or she will receive good medical care after agreeing to donate extremely valuable organs upon death?

Vice-Minister Huang suggested that it might take twenty years to implement his national donor system. He was apparently embarrassed that it could take so long. Yet China will be lucky if it can create a culture of organ donation within just two decades. The Chinese government has profited off the murder of prisoners for their organs, and it will take heroic efforts to eliminate state incentives for murder -- and build trust in Chinese society.