Kidney patients from the West are being lured to China by a group offering them new organs taken from executed prisoners.
The horrifying trade in human organs has been revealed by British surgeons who say patients are being tempted abroad, but may not fully understand the dangers or the human suffering behind the transplant operation.
It is thought that as many as 10 British patients may have gone to China this year to receive a new kidney, at a cost of approximately ?23,000 (US$40,296).
One UK patient was believed to be recovering this weekend at a hospital in southern China following such a transplant.
The Internet company transplantsinternational.com, makes it clear that the organs are from prisoners who are about to be executed. The prisoners apparently give their consent and are told that their families will receive money for the "donation."
Under the heading "Where do kidneys come from?" the company states: "A cadaveric kidney comes from a dead person and in the majority of cases in China, the dead people are prisoners, which allows for us to know at least two weeks ahead of time when the kidney will be ready."
It also makes clear that before the death, blood samples are taken from prisoners to ensure they will be the perfect match for their Western beneficiaries.
"All donors are screened to prevent any disease transmission and the prisoners consent to organ donation. Unlike in some Western countries, the prisoners can receive money for their organs," it says.
Peter Andrews, a consultant nephrologist from St Helier Hospital in Surrey, said: "In the past 18 months we've had at least five patients say they are considering this. Five years ago, it would have been unheard of."
Another doctor, Professor Stephen Wigmore, head of transplantation surgery at University Hospital Birmingham Trust said that recently one of his patients had gone some way towards preparing for a liver transplant in China, before deciding against it.
Doctors in Oxford, Nottingham and Sussex have reported similar cases, according to Hospital Doctor magazine.
Professor Nadey Hakim, head of transplantation surgery at Imperial College London said: "It is so disgusting it is hard to know how any doctor can take part in this trade."
"Of course people become desperate for a new kidney -- but do they realize what this trade is like? I first heard about it a few years ago from a Chinese doctor and I couldn't believe it. Would anyone want to receive an organ from someone who died in this way?" he said.
Hakim also has worries about other kinds of transplants carried out in China.
"We know that they have done around 10 arm transplants so far, and I was told that these donors are also prisoners. It raises many difficult ethical issues," he said.
The kidney transplants are carried out at the Southern Hospital in Guangzhou by Lixing Yu, who has performed thousands of kidney transplants over the past 30 years.
According to the Web site, he specializes in research on the long-term survival of patients and has received more than 19 national awards for his work.
Earlier this month, China broke its silence on the issue to admit that organs of executed prisoners were sold to foreigners for transplantation. Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu (
"We want to push for regulations on organ transplants to standardize the management of the supply of organs from executed prisoners and tidy up the medical market," Huang told Caijing magazine.
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