China routinely removes body organs from executed prisoners for transplants, health officials have admitted, but said it was only done with the prior consent of the prisoners or their families, according to a state media report.
Little information about China's transplant business is publicly available, and critics contend it is profit-driven with little regard for medical ethics. China has long defended the business as legal.
"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu (黃潔夫) said during a conference on human organ transplants last week, according to a China Daily report.
"The relevant authorities strongly require the informed consent from the prisoners or their families for the donation of organs," Huang was quoted as saying.
Human rights groups say many organs -- including those transplanted into wealthy foreigners -- come from executed prisoners who may not have given their permission.
Mao Qun'an (
"Some overseas media cook up stories that China randomly transplant organs from executed criminals, which is a malicious slander against the Chinese judiciary system and deceives the people on purpose," he said, according to the report.
But Mao admitted that poor government supervision in this industry had led to a number of "improper" organ transplants. He said organ transplants sometimes went not to those most in need of them but to foreigners who could pay higher fees.
Huang said the country's supply of organs could not meet its demand for donations, estimating that 10,000 operations were carried out a year even though 1.5 million people needed transplants.