China will abolish the transplanting of organs from executed prisoners within five years and try to encourage more citizens to donate, a Health minister has said.
Rights groups call transplants from condemned prisoners a form of abuse, and allege that the Chinese government, which executes far more people than any other nation, puts pressure on them to donate organs. The authorities, however, claim that the prisoners in question volunteer and that the change in policy is motivated by the fact that inmates are less healthy than the general population.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Huang Jiefu, the Vice-Health Minister, as saying that prisoner organ donations are not ideal because condemned inmates have high rates of fungal and bacterial infections. "Therefore, the long-term survival rates for people with transplanted organs in China are always below those of people in other countries," Xinhua paraphrased Mr Huang as saying.
Organ donations from condemned prisoners will be abolished within five years, he added, in remarks at a conference in Hangzhou in eastern China.
Xinhua said hospitals will instead rely on a national organ donation system that is being set up. Trial systems have reportedly been launched in 16 provinces.
China refuses to say how many prisoners it puts to death each year. Although figures vary, the human rights group Amnesty International estimates that the number is in the thousands, far more than the executions in all other countries combined. The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, for instance, estimated that China executed some 5,000 people in 2009.