‘Industrial Scale’ Atrocities in China

Much of the focus on Communist China over recent months has been over the ongoing trade war between the Asian superpower and the U.S., and about pro-democracy protests that have been raging in Hong Kong, the former British colony that was handed over to mainland Communist China in 1997.

Other Chinese actions, too, have been on front pages in more recent days. Like the investigations by the National Institutes of Health and the F.B.I. of 71 American academic institutions, including major medical schools, born of evidence that scientists have been stealing biomedical research for other countries, predominantly China.

But almost lost in all the China-related news have been what may be the most important, and are certainly the most disturbing, allegations against the country’s leadership.

The People’s Republic, according to several human rights groups, has apparently been harvesting thousands of human organs from persecuted religious and ethnic minorities.

Mere days ago, the U.N. Human Rights Council heard as much from an investigative body called The China Tribunal. It describes itself as an “independent, international people’s tribunal,” and is backed by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, an Australian human rights charity made up of lawyers, academics, and medical professionals.

The group told the Human Rights Council at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, that Uighur Muslims and members of the Falun Gong religious group were the primary victims of the alleged practice. The report was headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British lawyer who was the lead prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslavian president.

Hamid Sabi, a lawyer for the China Tribunal, said that China was routinely killing innocent people to use their organs, including hearts, kidneys, lungs and skin for transplantation. He described the situation, not understatedly, as a “crime against humanity.”

China denies large-scale harvesting of organs, although it has admitted using executed prisoners’ organs in the past, a practice it claims it put a halt to four years ago.

Mr. Sabi told the U.N. council on Tuesday that the practice involved “hundreds of thousands of victims,” describing it as “one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”

Amid the evidence he cited to support his group’s accusation is the fact that there are extremely short wait times for organ transplants in Chinese hospitals.

Back in July, another group, the U.S.-based China Organ Harvest Research Center (COHRC), leveled a similar charge against the Chinese government, saying that forced organ harvesting was taking place in China on an “industrial scale.” In addition to Falun Gong adherents, the rights group asserted, “members of other religious and ethnic minorities,” including Tibetans and some Christian sects, “have suffered the same fate.”

The lucrative organ transplant market, by all accounts, is worth more than $1 billion yearly. According to the COHRC, data from 2007 show that hospitals charged more than $65,000 for a kidney transplant, $130,000 for a liver, and more than $150,000 for a lung or a heart. Offers of organs can be found without difficulty on the internet.

Since around 2000, there has been a steep rise in the rate of organ transplant activities in China. COHRC says that China’s claims of 10,000 transplants a year was a significant understatement, and the real number is six to 10 times greater.

Thousands of transplant tourists have reportedly traveled from across the globe to China to purchase organs for transplants. The scale of the Chinese transplant industry and the ease with which organs seem to be procured support the human rights groups’ assertion that the source of organs in China has never been limited to willing death row criminals.

It is easy and comforting to imagine that various nations’ and groups’ technological, medical and economic advancements bring along concomitant advancement in ethical behavior. But, of course, that has proven repeatedly to not be the case. The same uncivilized behavior that preceded the expertise in new technologies can remain entirely in place, with the new capabilities simply turned into tools to facilitate the bad behavior. Islamist terrorists, for but one example, have mastered the art of social media and utilized it to encourage murder and mayhem.

If the recent reports of China’s disregard for human life are true — and every indication seems to point in that direction — it will be yet another example of how proficiency in things like medicine and commerce can coexist quite comfortably with barbarism.

Our own country’s dealings with China may afford some leverage in effectively communicating to its leaders the outrage that life-affirming and rights-respecting societies feel over the issue of forced organ procurement.

If so, the leverage should be utilized.