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China raids death row for body parts

PEKING - Executed prisoners are regularly used as a source of organs for transplants in China, a human rights group said in a report published yesterday, writes Teresa Poole.

Some executions in 'very few localities' were deliberately botched, so that the prisoner was not dead when the organs were removed, the New York-based Human Rights Watch/Asia alleged. The report coincided with the 15th congress of the World Transplant Society in Kyoto, Japan. It claimed about 3,000 organs, mostly kidneys and corneas from prisoners, were used each year.

By law the authorities need permission from prisoners or their families before organs are removed. But the report said consent was rarely sought and prisoners were coerced in their final hours. Prisoners often are told of their execution only on the previous night, or are shot immediately after a court's guilty verdict.

In Chinese culture, bereaved families rarely agree to donate organs. The traditional belief is that the dead should be buried intact. In Hong Kong there is a shortage of organs available for routine kidney transplant operations. This has led to a steady number of dialysis patients travelling to China for transplants.

Human Rights Watch/Asia cited government documents, articles in medical journals and statements by doctors to back its claims. The organisation said foreign governments should bar their citizens from undergoing transplant operations in China and called on the Chinese government to allow United Nations investigators to examine execution and organ procurement procedures.

Government regulations issued in 1984 by the Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Public Health called for secrecy. 'The utilisation of the executed's corpse or organs must be extremely confidential . . . The operation car (can be) parked at the execution site to remove the organs. However no Public Health Bureau labels can be stuck to the car and no medical white gowns may be worn,' the regulations said.

They said corpses from ethnic minorities 'will not be utilized in the Han (Chinese) regions'.

The regulations say an inspector must be at the execution site to verify the prisoner's death before the corpse can be removed. Human Rights Watch/Asia cited one 1988 Chinese training manual for state prosecutors as saying: 'A very few localities, in order to be able to use particular organs from the criminals' bodies, even go so far as to deliberately avoid killing them completely when carrying out the death sentence, so as to preserve the live tissue.'

Human Rights Watch/Asia said that the role played by Chinese doctors violated international standards of medical ethics.