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China to ban human organ trade

selling_kidneys.jpg

The photo on the left shows a mother and two sons bearing signs offering to sell their kidneys, because they need money to pay for the father's medical expenses after an accident. It was emailed to Danwei, apparently taken from an album on Flickr.com, but unfortunately without the source URL.

Like prostitution, trade in human organs is a very difficult to control in a country where the poorest people may have nothing to sell but their bodies, whether as manual laborors, prostitutes or as organ donors. In addition to living donors, there have in the past been questions by human rights organizations about what happens to the bodies of executed convicts here.

According to a Xinhua report published today, the Chinese government is making moves to regulate trade in human organs:

China is preparing to issue "in the near future" a document to regulate the developing organ transplant operation market, and the trading of human organs would be prohibited, according to a senior Ministry of Health official...

...Stressing the non-commercialization requirement, he reiterated the World Health Organization's guiding principle on organ transplants -- the human body and any part of it should not be subjected to trade. Putting up ads for buying organs for transplants and selling organs should be prohibited.

The world health body also forbids any individual or institution involved in organ transplants to claim payment other than a service charge.

However, the language used in the Xinhua report sounds more like it is describing the regulation of an industry, rather than the outright prohibition of organ trading:

The regulations would also outline that only medical institutions enjoying certain technological capabilities, staff and equipment will be allowed to enter the market.

Township clinics will be prohibited from performing organ transplants, Hu said.

"We'll not say that only one hospital can do the operation in one region, but we'll only allow those who are capable to do it by introducing a market access system."

The regulations will adopt two criteria to determine whether a person is dead and it is safe to transplant his or her organs to others: the heart stopping or brain death, according to the official.

UPDATE: The photo is from an article (in Chinese) that appeared in the Sanqin Daily last October. In addition to the organ trade issue, the family in the photograph had another encounter with the seedy side of medicine when they were convinced by a quack stationed at the entrance to the hospital to try his family's ancestral cure. They lost 15,000 yuan before resorting to the more expensive (100,000 yuan), legit hospital.

There has been no update in the news since that article. --JDM

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