Chinese Executions Save Lives

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China has finally admitted that most of its transplantable organs come from executed prisoners, and many of those are sold to foreigners. The LA Times quotes one kidney-seeking American who went to Guangdong for a quick replacement, and it's fairly clear that other Americans have benefited from the harvest.

Gruesome tales of medical tourism tend to turn people against organ markets, but it's worth noting that this is the kind of insane desperation the current donation-based system creates. Given other options, China's prison population is pretty much the last place you'd want your kidney to come from. Stateside, American prisoners who willingly donate are considered undesirable by donor recruitment agencies. Part of this reluctance is class prejudice and racism, but part of it is the often-sketchy social histories prisoners are assumed to have. The truth of transplantation is that you can't test for everything; it's possible, for instance, that a donor has been exposed to HIV so recently that the antigen can't be detected. So donors with histories of risky behavior are weeded out based on self-reports and information provided by families. Intravenous drug use and certain sexual behaviours count as a risky; I'm pretty sure doing time in a rural Chinese prison would too.

In general, kidney production is not something people want to outsource to countries where they won't touch the drinking water. But if the options are restricted to buying a random organ or dropping dead, people are going to choose the former.

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  1. Kerry-

    The latest issue of the Economist has an interesting article and op-ed on legalized kidney markets in Iran. They point out that unsavory practices are harder to sustain in the open, where information flows more freely. Worth a read.

  2. Ah, time to hire Gil the ARM. And to make jaywalking a capital offense.

  3. I look forward to privately funded stem cell research creating a custom-grown kidney market…

  4. Prisoners in the U.S. also have very high rates of Hepatitis C. It wouldn’t be desirable to get a kidney transplant and, several years down the line, be forced to get a liver transplant.

  5. I can’t claim any real familiarity with the Chinese prison system, but I would have imagined it to be more brutal and tightly controlled than what we’re familiar with in the US, such that unsupervised intervals to engage in IV drug use or risky sex would be more limited. Anybody else have contrary knowledge from more extensive reading on the subject? Or from doing hard time in the People’s Pen?

  6. >Ah, time to hire Gil the ARM.

    I’d rather be a belter than a flatlander.

  7. I would call this a barbaric, uncivilzed practice from a barbaric, uncivilized nation, but I don’t feel like being called a racist today.

  8. You know, the problem with Chinese organs is that you need another one after an hour.

    Did Kerry Howley write an organ donation/market story, or is she writing one now? Hmmmm . . . .

  9. I bet they make little fortune cookies for your post-op recovery:

    “You will contract AIDS White Boy!”

    Oh yeah: “Lucky Numbers 2, 4, 12, 57”

    At least it really works with the “in bed” game.

  10. I’d rather be a belter than a flatlander.

    Damn straight.

    They have cooler haircuts, for starters.

  11. I wouldn’t quite call China uncivilized, even though they have many practices that we would consider so, and vice versa.

  12. Maybe I should have said “a barbaric, uncivilized government.” Having visited Hong Kong when it was free, as well as Taiwan, I have nothing but love and respect for Chinese culture. Plus, the babes are drop dead gorgeous.

  13. Umbriel-

    I don’t know if this applies to China, but a lot of Third World prisons are less tightly controlled than in the West. They bascially view the responsibility of the guards as a matter of keeping you within the walls; what you do while inside is up to the gangs which run the place.

  14. Although I imagine there’d be a lot more regimented exercise and synchronized slogan shouting in the Chinese system.

  15. I would call this a barbaric, uncivilzed practice from a barbaric, uncivilized nation, but I don’t feel like being called a racist today.

    Why is this racist?

    Oh. You were talking about the Chinese policy, not ours.

    Never mind.

  16. They bascially view the responsibility of the guards as a matter of keeping you within the walls; what you do while inside is up to the gangs which run the place.

    That pretty much the way I’ve heard it works in American and Canadian prisons.

    I don’t know about European prisons, except I’ve heard that the English and French ones are really old, wet and drafty and pretty much make ours look like luxury resorts.

  17. Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?

  18. Can’t think of a Larry Niven in-joke!

  19. Don’t worry. the market will sort it out.

  20. So you have to kill lives in order to save lives? Is that your argument?

    Perhaps you should understand that the executions in China happen if you evade tax, if you post something critical on the web about the communist regime or if you happen to believe in a Buddha Dao or God and openly admit it and won’t renounce your faith.

    You might like to think that one thru a bit better and instead condemn any forced removal of organs from anyone unless you have full consent of the soon to be executed person or the deceased families’ members.

    Something else you should know. Chinese do not believe in handing over their body parts the way westerners do as it goes against their tradition culture and belief system. So if the communist says it has their consent then you can be sure they are lying.

  21. The other difference here with the U.S. penal system is that, last I heard, China executes prisoners with a bullet to the brain. The victim’s organs are therefore more likely to be re-usable than those of someone executed in the U.S. by lethal injection or electrocution. There is then a source of supply that you wouldn’t find in the U.S. short of live donation (which has other problems from the point of view of supply); prisoners who die naturally in U.S. prisons are either too old or too sick to be a reliable source.

  22. I wonder if there is a moral duty in the civilized West to try to prevent people from buying these kidneys. The more I think about it, the more I feel the answer is “yes.”

  23. Stevo Darkly,

    Well, you could mention corpsicles or, perhaps, the Belter tan. Or use the word, “organlegger”.

  24. I can see a moral duty not to buy organs harvested from a Chinese prisoner.

    Free market organs? Why the hell not? A willing buyer and a willing seller coming to terms is ethical in my book.

  25. I can see a moral duty not to buy organs harvested from a Chinese prisoner.

    How about punishing those that do anyway, if / when they return to the civilized West?

    Do you think that they should jail the recipients in these shady deals, or just take the kidney back out?

    Or is this a more casual moral duty where punishments are inappropriate?

  26. Perhaps you should understand that the executions in China happen if you evade tax, if you post something critical on the web about the communist regime or if you happen to believe in a Buddha Dao or God and openly admit it and won’t renounce your faith.

    That’s something of an exaggeration. While people can be executed for tax evasion, the sums involved are going to be pretty big. I’ve never heard of people recently being executed for Buddhism or Daoism, and there is a state-sponsored Christian church. However, the Falun gong is another matter.

    Anyway, even if it’s hard to work up outrage over something being done to a corpse, I suppose the suggestion is that the executioners are profiting from it at the expense of the victim’s survivors, and that they may be tempted to execute more people to make more money.

  27. Re Han Meng’s comments..

    Unfortunately its not an exaggeration. The Christians amount to 2% of the executed in China .Of the CCP Official count of 60,000 transplant operations done between 2000-2005 in China only 18,000 can be verified with plausible donors,, ie executed prisoners and family donors etc.. The remaining 41,500 transplant donors are a mystery until you realise that since the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999 the increase in transplant operations went up .

    Christian churches that are not burnt to the ground are those who comply with the communist regimes qualifications for worship. Which then makes it not Christianity but worship according to the communist regime. There in lye’s the fundamental difference to the freedom of belief. That also applies to the Buddhist and Daos religions in China you must register and comply.

    Falun Gong Practitioners will not comply with any evil regime otherwise what then would they be practising and believing in??

    Have you read the independent report on Organ harvesting that was published by 2 Canadians in July of this year? you can read it at
    http://investigation.go.saveinter.net/

    As you say the Falun Gong are another issue. The only real issue Im afraid as this persecution is the worst in history. When the truth of this matter is fully exposed the world will weep.

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