Monday, December 19, 2005

GUANGZHOU, China — A Chinese company has begun marketing kidneys, livers and other organs from executed prisoners to sick Britons in need of transplants.

Hospital Doctor, a British magazine, earlier this month reported that a firm called Transplants International was trying to recruit British patients.

Operations were to be carried out at Guangzhou Air Force Military Hospital by doctors from a hospital affiliated with the nearby Sun Yat-sen Southern University.

Guangzhou is the fast-growing metropolis near Hong Kong in the heart of China’s southern manufacturing zone.

The Telegraph confirmed the story in an interview with the hospital’s Dr. Na Ning, in which a reporter posed as someone interested in getting involved as a business venture.

“We can sign an agreement,” Dr. Na said over a business lunch in a smart Western restaurant.

“We should be cautious — this is sensitive. There is no need to bring in lawyers or consultants. We should do the agreement on trust.”

Dr. Na is one of many doctors involved in a growing organ-transplant trade that has caused revulsion around the world. In China, the practice raises few eyebrows.

Executed prisoners are the main source of organs used in the country’s transplant operations, thousands of which are conducted each year.

Up to one in 10 recipients are believed to be from other nations, mainly from elsewhere in Asia. There is also a market in Saudi Arabia, according to Imad, a Jordanian working as a translator at the military hospital.

“All the operations on foreigners in China are now carried out at military hospitals,” Dr. Na said.

China’s Health Ministry banned its own hospitals from taking part in organ transplants from prisoners after an international outcry over the practice in the 1990s.

Military hospitals are independent of the Health Ministry.

Dr. Na said military hospitals also have access to the Public Security Bureau — the police. This means transplants that are a good match for potential donors are more readily available from the execution grounds.

Foreigners, after an initial checkup, are guaranteed an organ will arrive within two weeks.

Some human rights campaigners have claimed the use of transplanted organs encourages the authorities to arrange executions to suit the doctors’ schedules.

Dr. Na and other hospitals involved said they had yet to have a patient from Britain.

Transplants International was about to find a patient in Britain, Dr. Na said, but had cut off contact after the patient’s relative — in reality, a Hospital Doctor reporter — asked too many questions.

“There are spies,” Dr. Na said. “We have to be very careful.”

Under the deal offered, British and other Western patients would be charged $40,000 for a kidney transplant.

Of that, the middleman could keep $12,000 to $15,000. The rest went to the hospital.

Patients are mostly aware of where the organs come from, but if they need a transplant, they do not have much choice.

After treatment, patients have a more than 85 percent success rate, according to the hospital’s statistics.

One patient, a Chinese man with a son living in Britain, said he was very satisfied. Asked if he minded the fact that the organ came from an executed prisoner, Dr. Na answered for him. “Patients are aware of this,” he said. “They put their trust in their doctors.”

Dr. Na, who spoke excellent English, showed a typical contract between the hospital and a middleman, an Indonesian, to provide patients from Vietnam.

Asians pay half the Western price, but Dr. Na said Western patients get “VIP” treatment and are sure to get the “best quality” organs.

The contract is detailed and gives a discount of $1,500 if the middleman provides more than 10 patients a month.

A surcharge of $2,000 can be paid for VIP treatment. A liver transplant is more expensive, at $60,000.

The Chinese government says all prisoners whose organs are used have agreed to the donation, and in some cases, their relatives are paid.

After being approached by the Daily Telegraph, Transplants International shut down its Web site.

It was set up by Jonathan Hakim, a Beijing-based businessman from the United States, using the name John Harris.

Mr. Hakim denied having supplied patients to Dr. Na in the past and added that he had decided no longer to be involved with the project.

“I see this is clearly something that I do not want to be part of,” he said.

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