In June, many Americans heard the words “organ harvesting” mentioned on the news for the very first time in reference to China’s state-run forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
While other types of organ transplant abuse are egregious, they are not truly comparable to this: leaders of the world’s most populous country mass-murdering its own citizens due to their ethnic, religious or political views—and then profiting from that murder.
The recent spate of media reports have drawn comments from casual readers comparing China’s organ harvesting to other incidents they’ve heard of in the past. The sentiment that “this is nothing new” is often seen in the comments sections.
Blasé as those remarks are, they are understandable—China’s organ harvesting bears similarities to countless cases of medical exploitation. In each story, there is an economic incentive, a person of vulnerable status, and a ruthless mastermind.
Taken as a whole, however, the phenomenon of Chinese organ harvesting surpasses any other horror we have seen in the modern day—especially in the information age, where it’s easy to presume that news of any considerable event would surely be at our fingertips.
To better understand the distinction, we begin by exploring organ trafficking broadly.
Modern Day Organ Trafficking
Reports of organ trade began circulating in the 1980s. The Lancet published one of the first cases, wherein 130 patients traveled from the Middle East to India to have kidney transplants from living, unrelated donors.
The organs were purchased through brokers. Most of the donors were desperate—willing to sell a kidney in order to feed their families and make ends meet.
This type belongs to organ trade spurred by the donors’ poverty.
The BBC reported this year that Iraqi gangs have offered up to $10,000 for a kidney, targeting the underprivileged, making Iraq a new hub for organ trade across the Middle East. According to 2014 World Bank statistics, nearly 22.5% of Iraq’s population lives in extreme poverty.
Brokers prey on the weak, often offering only a fraction of the organ’s value, or paying far less than the promised amount.
Then there are the unwilling donors.
In 2013 an unnamed girl was brought to the UK from Somalia with the intention of removing her organs and selling them for transplantation.
The same year, a six-year-old boy in China was kidnapped and hours later found with his eyes extracted. His eyes were later discovered with missing corneas, stolen by traffickers to sell on the black market.
In 2014, a member of the Mexican Knights Templar drug cartel was arrested and investigated for kidnapping minors to harvest their organs.
These instances involve criminals, or gangs, and unwilling donors. Usually the cases involve kidnapping, trickery, drugging, or outright murder.
Some of these reports are graphic; they are all grotesque. Yet they are still different than forced live organ harvesting in China today. In China, it is the government itself perpetrating these crimes, rather than private groups or individuals.
Big Butcher is Watching
Traditionally, the Chinese do not donate their organs, instead preferring to keep their bodies intact upon death. There is neither a culture of nor a system for organ donation in China.
However, in the last 15 years, Chinese hospitals have advertised themselves as destinations for organ transplants, some claiming to have fresh hearts and livers ready within a few weeks. In contrast, in countries with donor systems, patients often have to wait years for a matching organ.
Furthermore, the number of transplants performed in China far surpasses what could be supplied by death row convicts—a number that the Chinese authorities say have been declining.
This has lead researchers to believe that organs are removed from living prisoners of conscience—innocent people whom the Communist party deems a threat to its power.
Members of the meditation practice Falun Gong remain the major targets. House Christians, and ethnic separatists such as Tibetans and Uyghurs are also in danger.
Investigators suspect China’s forced organ harvesting began around the year 2000 or 2001, not long after the regime announced the genocide of Falun Gong in 1999.
At the start of the genocide, there were an estimated 100 million Falun Gong practitioners living in China. Thousands got kidnapped into labor camps and brainwashing centers by special police acting under government orders.
Finding themselves with a large, hidden captive population, China’s highest officials, doctors and surgeons naturally found the most lucrative way to capitalize on it, first by putting their captives to work making cheap export goods, and then by selling their bodies for parts.
Murder on a Massive Scale
Investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann told The Epoch Times in a June interview, “This is a new form of genocide. It’s using the most respected members of society to implement it: the medical profession.”
The complete warping of Chinese society takes a minute to fully appreciate. In normal societies, it is the duty of the government to protect and serve the public; it is the duty of doctors to heal. But in contemporary China, the police have become bounty hunters, doctors have become butchers, and wealthy transplant patients the financiers of mass murder.
“What the report shows quite conclusively is that we are looking at not 10,000 transplants per year in China, but something more like 60,000 to 100,000 transplants a year in China,” Gutman said of the recent report.
This dark industry has spurred the Chinese pharmaceutical industry to respond with improved immunoreceptor suppressants and organ preservation technologies. Another innovation, eerily recalling the Nazi gas van, is the mobile execution vehicle—vans in which captured prisoners could be put to death immediately without so much as disturbing traffic or arousing suspicion.
We Said ‘Never Again’
As shocking as this reality is, one need not look too deep into recent history to see that it is simply a continuation of Communist China’s history of cruelty towards its own people. Since the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921, the regime has killed more innocents than Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia put together.
When Matas and Kilgour first began their investigation in the 2010s, they said: “The allegations, if true, represent a disgusting form of evil which, despite all the depravities humanity has seen, are new to this planet.”
As they continued their probe over the past decade, what they found proved to be worse than anyone had imagined.
In the aftermath of World War II, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter recalled his disbelief when he was first told about the Holocaust:
“I did not say that this young man was lying. I said that I was unable to believe what he told me. There is a difference.”
After the Holocaust, the free world vowed never to allow such a thing to happen again, yet here we are. As hard as the truth is to stomach, it’s imperative that instead of turning away in horror, we demand justice and make good on that vow.
The recently passed U.S. House Resolution 343 and other pronouncements by world governments represent the first step towards ending forced organ harvesting from Chinese prisoners of conscience, a crime that if we allow to continue, will be the greatest blight on our modern age.