China Sells Organs of Executed Prisoners, Dissidents Say

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - Chinese dissidents told a Senate hearing Thursday that the executions of Chinese political prisoners and criminals were timed to coincide with the need for kidneys and other organs to transplant, often for foreign patients.

Pei Qi Gao, a former member of Chinas public security agency now living in London, and Harry Wu, a former political prisoner, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the government sells the body parts for $30,000.

Prisoners are either shot in the head to harvest their kidneys and hearts or shot in the heart to keep their corneas available for transplant, they said. They said they knew of one case in which both kidneys were taken from a living prisoner for transplant to a wealthy Thai businessman. The reports of body part sales without consent of the prisoners or their families, as well as allegations that aborted fetuses are sold as health food, were raised this week by congressional opponents of trade with China.

A key opponent of Most Favored Nation trade status for Beijing, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said the allegations will have an impact on renewal of the preferential trade status.

At the State Department, spokesman Nicholas Burns told reporters that Assistant Secretary John Shattuck has raised the issue with China and the department was investigating the report. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in February the practice of removing organs from executed prisoners without consent, if true, would be among the grossest imaginable violations of human rights.

Although Beijing denies the reports, Dr. David Rothman of Columbia University says there is ample evidence of the practice. He noted that in the United States patients must wait months for an available organ for transplant, while in China transplants can be scheduled well in advance despite the absence of an organ donor program.

This is astonishing given the random character of organ retrieval in ordinary circumstances, no one can know when a death will produce a donation, he said.

Gao, who has witnessed executions, said 20 to 30 death-row inmates were kept on reserve in case their organs were needed. The extraction of organs is an open secret in China, Gao said through an interpreter. Wu, who had gone back to China to investigate the organ sales, said six patients at two hospitals knew their organs came from executed prisoners and one knew details of the execution and the background of the condemned prisoner.

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