Hope, strength and the courage to continue their lives were restored to three Taiwanese who underwent organ transplants in China, but they — and possibly many others that made the same trip — might be living with organs that were ripped out of political prisoners, most of whom belong to the banned Falun Gong, according to an award-winning documentary.
The documentary Human Harvest: China’s Illegal Organ Trade, directed by Leon Lee (李雲翔), a Canadian of Chinese descent, asserts that China’s organ transplant industry has nefarious links to the underbelly of Chinese law enforcement.
Lee said was skeptical when rumors surfaced in 2001 that Chinese authorities were harvesting the organs of political prisoners.
However, Lee said he was surprised to discover that Chinese hospitals are able to say with confidence they can match any sort of organ with any kind of blood type, adding that organ transplants are complicated affairs that necessitate complete matches in blood type, tissue antigen and other requirements between donor and recipient.
It is evident that the hospitals were able to source organs from somewhere, and the documentary attempted to piece together the entire process by interviewing patients, their family members and medical staff at hospitals, Lee said.
The documentary focuses on three Taiwanese who paid contacts to arrange organ transplants in China after having been on waiting lists in Taiwan, Lee said.
The three were surprised to find that many patients in the hospital were also waiting for organ transplants, Lee said.
They could not believe how many “live bodies” were being arranged for selection, family members of the patients said, adding that they were told any organ of any blood type could be provided, Lee said.
A man claiming to be a former member of the armed police force alleged in an interview that he saw a criminal taken to a hospital and have his organs extracted without being given an anesthetic, Lee said, adding that the man said the criminal had died within three hours of the procedure.
Lee said he also talked to a woman claiming to be the wife of a doctor who undertook transplant surgeries, adding that the doctor identified some of the “live body” donors he operated on as members of the Falun Gong organization.
The doctor had not been able to live with his conscience afterward and finally moved abroad, according to Lee.
A doctor from China’s Liaoning Province said that, in the past, many organs used to be harvested from criminals who had just been executed, but that now doctors prefer “live body” donors, Lee said.
It saves bullets and offers fresher organs while still in being in accordance with the regulation to “use anti-revolutionaries to benefit the economy” (對反革命份子進行經濟化的利用), the doctor said.
It was impossible to interview doctors or patients following this type of transplant surgery as doctors were too afraid to meet and some of the patients had already died, Lee said.
“Any direct evidence is still being kept under cover, as the entire surgical procedure is overseen by armed police forces,” Lee said.
Lee said that audiences would be able to draw their own conclusions as to whether Chinese hospitals were conducting “live body harvests.”
Taiwanese viewers should consider the possibility that the Chinese government might do the same to Taiwanese in the future, he said.
The film — which followed an eight-year investigation — was awarded last year’s Peabody Award.
Falun Gong lawyer group spokesperson Chu Wan-chi (朱婉琪) said the movement has been repressed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1999, and over the past 16 years, the number of organ transplant centers in China has increased from 150 to more than 600.
China executes a maximum of 2,000 criminals per year, but transplant surgeries surpass 10,000 every year, begging the question of where the Chinese hospitals are sourcing their organs, Chu said.
Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplants doctor Huang Chien-feng (黃千峰) said there are between 50,000 and 60,000 dialysis patients in Taiwan, adding that the numbers are nearly identical to the number of Chinese requiring dialysis.
The ease of organ transplants in China leads one to be suspicious of where they are sourcing the organs, Huang said, adding that he hoped the documentary would help promote legal organ donations in Taiwan.
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