My liver, my pain – human organ trading investigation

| May 7th, 2010

From Beijing morning post:

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25,000 yuan, for which can only buy you 1 – 2 square meters of housing in Beijing, Yang Nian gave up 60% of his liver. 150,000 yuan, in order to pay for 60% of Yan Nian’s liver, the family of a terminal cancer patient Xie Yousheng (not his real name) was borrowing money from everywhere.

1.5 million patients in China are waiting for organ transplants each year which gave birth to this industry that should have never existed – buying and selling human organs. And the huge profit – from 25,000 to 150,000 also created the group that should never have existed – human organ brokers.

In a residential building across street from the Civil Affairs Bureau in Qi County, Hebi City, Henan Province, a simple three bedroom apartment housed over 10 people. They are a group of young men. The oldest of them was only 25 years old. They came here with a similar family background – poor, in need of money, they also had the same intentions – to sell their livers or kidneys in order to make money. 19 year old Yang Nian came here and became the youngest of all.

Yang was brought here by a man named Wang Zhanwei, he was Yang’s initial contact. Yang met Wang on the internet and consulted him on the market prices of the organs – kidney for 45,000 yuan and liver for 40,000. Having not decided which to sell yet, Yang came to Zhengzhou, Henan province and became one of Wang’s so-called donors. But two weeks later, Wang said that he had lost contact with the hospital and transferred all his donors including Yang to man named Yang Shihai in Qi County in Hebi city.

Qi County is located between Zhengzhou and Beijing, not far from either cities, but the cost of living is relatively lower, monthly rent for the three bedroom apartment was 2,800 yuan. Yang Shihai borrowed 20,000 yuan from friends and started to feed and provide for the donors, waiting for his partner Liu Qiangsheng who was in Beijing looking for buyers to call him. Donors eat, live and play here for free. Afraid of the donors getting bored of waiting, Yang Shihai was “kind enough” to buy two computers for them to play games on. The food standards were also not bad there, each meal had several meat dishes. The donors were considered unrestrained, they can wander around during the day and come back for meals, even if they change their mind, they can leave at any time.

For the donors, the brokers are also selective. Newcomer Yang Nian was taken to the hospital for checkups, blood type, height, weight and also to see if he had any infectious diseases. The healthy ones stayed and the unqualified were asked to leave. According to reports, donors with AB blood type are usually asked to leave because fewer patients have blood type AB. Brokers did not want to keep them for nothing.

Only a couple days later Yang Nian had a buyer. Liu Qiangsheng sent a message from Beijing said a cancer patient needed a liver transplant. So Yang Nian went to Beijing by himself and stayed in a basement through Liu’s arrangement. There were also three other donors there. After physicals and matching process Yang Nian became the one who was going to offer his liver, the negotiated price between Yang and Liu was 35,000 yuan. Soon enough Yang Nian was admitted to the hospital for a series of organ transplant operation preparations.

According to the relevant regulations, the acceptance of live organ donor must be a spouse, lineal blood relative or collateral consanguinity. In order to transform Yang to be the patient’s nephew and become a legitimate donor, Liu immediately sent patient’s wife home to get proof of the nephew-uncle relationship. And his other proofs of identity were taken care of by Liu. The numerous advertisements you see on the streets on getting fake ids made this into an extremely simple matter. (Editor’s note: you often see advertisements on the streets of China, on the walls, telephone poles or any writeable surfaces, with just a phone number and two words “办证” means getting false identification cards or documents. Now you know what they are for.) More than a week later, smoothly passed hospital’s reviews, Yang went into the operating room. Ten hours later, Yang Nian was left with only 40% of his liver.

However, the process of getting paid was not as smooth as the operation. When he was going to be discharged from the hospital after the surgery, Yan only received 25,000 yuan and the rest 10,000 was never paid. But what Yan did not know was, the liver recipient Xie Yousheng did not just pay 25,000 yuan but 150,000. Xie gave Liu two payments of 40,000 and 50,000 each but was asked for another 60,000. “He said if I don’t pay he was going to waste me.” Already very scared, Xie and his wife could only borrow from everywhere and raise the money, but they only believed that the donor got 40,000 yuan. “Later we found out Liu Xiangsheng only gave him 25,000, we were especially angry, but we could not do anything.”

Yan Nian’s experience did not end there, in order to get back the 10,000 yuan he once again found Liu. But he did not expect what was waiting for him was Liu and 20 other guys. After getting brutally beaten up, Yang had no other choice but to report this to the police, at the same time he “created” the first human organ trading case in Beijing. According to Haidian district prosecutor Mr. Qiu, some members of the human organ trading group have been arrested. Police are now actively conducting investigations.

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Type in Baidu and search for “looking for liver, kidney” and so on words, tens of thousands of results show up, including QQ numbers, cell phone numbers, some even operate like a company. They not only look for people willing to sell their livers and kidneys, at the same time they also advertise to provide livers and kidneys that match the patients. Reporter contacted number of organ trading brokers and found that they had a clear set of requirements, and the business also formed “one shop stop” service.

Most of the liver and kidney donors required men, over 1.70 meters tall, weighs more than 115 jin, age of 30 or under, and must pass blood, liver function, hepatitis B, color Doppler ultrasound and so on tests. Almost all brokers indicated that they would pay for all food and living expenses, basic inspection and exam fees, travelling expenses and other living expenses, some even promised to ask the recipient to give “hongbao” (red envelops stuffed with money inside) to the donor when the operation is done. Reporter contacted a broker Wang in Jiangsu, he said he kept 190 donors in past 2 years, and made over 30 successful business transactions, “The more donors you have in hand, the higher your success rate will be.”

To those patients what need organs, they also put forward all kinds of “humane” and helpful tips, the responsibility of the patients, how to get over the moral dilemma and so on related reading materials. Their attentive services are astounding. A broker in Shenyang told the reporter who was pretending to look for donor for his relative that they can find a suitable matching donor in three to four days, “We also will provide you with two backup donors, after the donor is discharged from the hospital, patient is not to be responsible, you have nothing to worry about. At the same time, we will also provide a complete set of evidence of family relations, so you don’t have to worry at all.”

According to Beijing’s two hospitals allowed to consult an organ transplant, now if you want to a liver or kidney transplant, patients often have to wait for months or even longer. “I don’t know specifically how long you have to wait, depends on the situation.” And the price of liver or kidney is around 100,000 yuan. But the illegal human organ market price seems to be higher than this. Broker Wang from Jiangsu asked reporter for 180,000 yuan for the full package, which includes donor organ, medical costs, doctor’s hongbao, identity and other related procedures; he even claimed to help arrange the hospital. “I will provide you with 4 to 5 donors.” For the cost of the organ, reporter questioned, “the hospital is only charging 100,000, and you also charge that much, is it too high?” In response, Wang said with disdain, “What hospitals provide are all from dead people, we provide living organs, can the quality be the same?”

Supply and demand:

Industry source said China’s organ transplant donors come from three main sources, death row donations, relatives and death of brain diseases or traditional voluntary unpaid donors. Inadequate number of organs donated is a global problem, more so in the largely populated China. According to China Red Cross relief aid Minister Wang Ping, China has about 150 million patients each year waiting for organ transplants, but only 10 thousand people get them, there is a obvious gap between supply and demand.

Organ transplantation began to be practiced in China in the 60s of the 20th century. Its technology and scale have been rapidly developed since then; the number of clinical surgeries is second in the world after the United States. But in 2007 the Supreme People’s Court retrieved the rights to approve death penalties, the number of criminals being executed was greatly reduced each year, and also the written consent of donors was introduced, so the number of cadaveric organ transplantation reduced by one third to half. The shortage of donors created this black market. Donors, recipients, brokers, hospitals, everyone seems to be profiting, they work together closely and each bears their responsibility and formed a perfect chain.

At the same time, overseas foreigners’ China organ transplant tourism is a very hot industry. Once was a life-saving place for the foreigner patients, Tianjin First Hospital Oriental Organ Transplant Center achieved a record high 600 liver transplants in 2006. Amount them, foreigners from United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia etc. countries accounted about half. And last year’s news on “17 Japanese in China for organ transplant tourism” also stirred up a storm. Subsequently, the Ministry of Health instructed the relevant departments to investigate the matter, also said that the priority of organ transplants should go to Chinese citizens.

Nowhere to donate:

Earlier this year, a father went into a 130,000 yuan debt for donating his son’s organs also made people feel troubled. October 4 last year, Wang Baotian’s 17 year old son died of an accident, in order to save other’s life, Wang decided to donate his son’s organ. However, the process was difficult, complicated procedures and formalities took over one month before a donation can be made. For this, Wang was also 130,000 yuan in debt. And his son’s organ was also damaged because of the long time use of medicine to maintain its vital signs. The hospital eventually had to give it up.

On one hand is a shortage of organs for transplants; on the other hand is nowhere to donate even if you want to. China’s awkward position on organ transplants urges establishment and improvement on the donation system.

Legal blind spots:

In most countries, selling human organs and its related commercials are crimes that have appropriate penalties, such as UK’s “Human Organ Transplant Law” constitutes selling human organs as a crime; Japan’s “Organ Transplant Law” also defined such crimes of illegally selling human organs and profiting from them.

However compare to other countries laws, China’s “Human Organ Transplant Ordinance” was only implemented in May 2007. The regulations follow the eight principles, including voluntary, informed consent, fairness, technological requirements, non-commercial and independent decisions, and also required transplantation organizations to be permitted into the system. According to reports, China reduced the number of institutes allowed conducting organ transplant from more than 300 to around 160. However the regulation clearly prohibits selling of human organs, but there is no direct charges for this behavior in the criminal law. “After reading the entire articles, we believe that such act constitutes the crime of illegal business operation.” Beijing’s organ trading case prosecutor Qiu Zhiying told the reporter. A legal profession pointed out that the penalties for the crime of illegal business operation are relatively light, they do not fit the crime of organ trading and the harm it has done to the society. China should formulate relevant organ trading charges and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment penalty in order to fight the organ trading crime more effectively.

6 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. GuoBao says:

    Desperate people unfortunately have to make desperate decisions. Probably can’t do much about that but those scumbag brokers who cheat, intimidate and cause irreparable damage to the poor and the ill should spend 50 years doing hard labour.

  2. Crystal says:

    Anyway, it’s better than taking organs from people against their will (convicted to death penalty)

    • Cappy says:

      Are you serious…? You must be a liberal… who cares about someone on death row… they have done something sooo haneous that they are to be put to death… and you are worried about their “will”… against their will is not even relevant…. “don’t take the organs ‘against the will’ of a man that raped and killed a 6 year old little girl…COMPLETELY AGIANST HER WILL… when you choose to take the life of another human being… you choose to suffer the consequences… no matter what they might be…

  3. Wang Er says:

    The ultimate solution is to enhance the education in the public about organ donation, and giving incentives in life insurance, housing, etc, to donors. It could start among government and state-owned enterprise workers to increase the donation rate.

  4. Charlotte says:

    This is such a sad story to read. I almost shed tears.

  5. Natalie 桑嘉雯 says:

    this is an awesome article.

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