HONG KONG—A top university hospital in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is carrying out a lucrative trade in liver transplants using organs harvested from executed convicts.
The No. 1 and No. 3 Hospitals affiliated to the prestigious Sun Yat-sen University have a reputation for the highest success rate in kidney and liver transplant operations in the country, but their business thrives on a shady source—the organs of executed prisoners, which are often removed even before they are dead.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia's Mandarin service, nurse at the No. 3 Hospital said: "Mostly, yes," when asked if transplant organs were taken from the bodies of executed prisoners.
Asked if the organs were removed from the bodies before death, she replied: "Of course they are."
"They are living organs...very healthy," the nurse told RFA reporter Fang Yuan.
Rights groups have long charged China with a deliberate policy of linking the criminal justice system and local hospitals in an attempt to meet growing demand for transplants since Chinese hospitals became proficient at them in the early 1990s.
They also accuse the authorities of skipping over the question of consent, either with coerced agreements before the prisoner is executed, or simply by cremating the bodies of those executed so no evidence remains.
Rights groups say China executes more people than the rest of the world put together, with some estimates putting the number executed at around 10,000 annually. Some reports say the rise in transplants has mirrored the rise in executions.
An official who answered the phone at the No. 3 Hospital's Transplant Center said a liver transplant could cost between 200,000 and 300,000 yuan (U.S.$24,000-36,000) "if all goes smoothly."
Asked if the organs came from executed prisoners, he said: "Please don't ask questions concerning these issues of supply. Anyway, we've been doing it like that for ages."
He said patients waiting for transplants could receive a liver in just a week, or if they were unlucky in a month.
Asked if the organs came from living people, he said: "You don't need to concern yourselves with that. All our patients undergo the same procedures."
Beijing has previously angrily denied reports by Chinese doctors, rights groups and U.S. government officials of a system-wide trade in the organs of executed prisoners.
The official Xinhua news agency reported in March on a scarcity of transplant organs at a different hospital in the same university.
"Some people die waiting for an organ," the agency reported.
Chinese doctors giving testimony to the U.S. Congress say that wealthy foreigners traveling to China for transplants make finding an organ more difficult for Chinese patients.
Many of China's transplant customers are from Taiwan, although Taiwan hospitals have warned of a lower success rate on the mainland.
Amnesty International issued a report on organ harvesting in 1993, calling on the Chinese government to ban the practice, which it said rarely happened with the free and informed consent of the prisoner.
"The use of organs from this source continues in China, reportedly on a widespread scale," the organization reported in 1995, citing a paper suggesting that as many as 90 percent of organs used in transplantations in China came from executed prisoners.
A 1994 report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch gave further evidence of the practice, including the text of a government decree on the subject.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.