BEIJING — China has acknowledged the practice of “transplant tourism,” in which the organs of executed prisoners are sold to foreigners, and says it wants to regulate the sale of kidneys, livers and other body parts.
“Most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners,” Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu said at a summit for transplant doctors in Guangzhou this week, state newspapers reported.
The practice had been repeatedly denied by the government.
A ministry spokesman also said that “wealthier people, including foreign patients” could jump waiting lists because they were willing to pay more.
Under new rules, foreigners would only be allowed to come to China for transplants under regulations yet to be announced but that would conform to international standards, the summit was told. Priority would be given to an estimated 1 million Chinese on waiting lists.
All doctors would have to agree to the rules, which also include a ban on “organ trading” — buying organs from live donors and transporting the organs for sale outside China.
The rules appear to be a direct response to charges dating back to the 1980s that foreigners were arriving in China for transplants and waiting as little as two weeks for a donor to be found.
In some cases, it was claimed that prisoners were being executed so transplants could take place. The claims were repeatedly denied by government spokesmen.
In December, the Daily Telegraph was invited to act as a middleman offering organs for sale to patients fed up with waiting lists in Britain.
Patients would be charged about $40,000 for a kidney and more than $60,000 for a liver transplant.
The government said in April that it would ban the trade in organs from living people and insisted that all donations should be with consent, even in the case of executed prisoners.
But this failed to address the fact that donations were already supposed to be with consent, a rule widely thought to be ignored.
The regulations also only applied to ministry of health hospitals. Most transplant operations on foreigners are done at military hospitals run by the People’s Liberation Army.