Organ transplant scams move online to exploit poor donors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2001, 12:00am

The advertisement on a Web site on the mainland put it in simple terms: 'I'm a doctor from a major Shanghai hospital, and I will give you 150,000 yuan - if you give me a kidney.'

That advert appeared in May and the doctor did not have to wait long.

According to a report from Xinhua, a peasant from Kaifeng in Henan province was one of the first to respond. Thinking he could pay his mother's hefty medical bills, the man sold his television set and electric fan to cover travel expenses and left for Shanghai with 800 yuan (HK$754) in his pocket.

After meeting the doctor, who gave his name as Xiao Ming, in front of a Shanghai hospital, he went through a series of blood tests. He then paid Dr Xiao 500 yuan on the second day, ostensibly for more tests, but never saw the man again. Other victims included a woman from Heilongjiang province and a man from Shandong. The man, Mr Zhang, went to police, and soon the purported doctor was in custody.

They found 24-year-old Sun Xiaofei was from the northeastern province of Liaoning. He told police he had been heavily in debt when he saw a report about an impoverished Chinese student studying abroad who had sold a kidney so he could go home. This inspired Sun to put his message on the Internet - earning him more than 6,000 yuan.

Trading in human organs is banned in China, where doctors reported more than 5,000 kidney transplants last year. Chinese surgeons told a medical conference last week that, as in most countries, they faced a shortage of legally available transplant organs.

Previously, bulletin boards outside some mainland hospitals openly displayed announcements for potential buyers and sellers of kidneys. Now the Internet meets this need.

People who visit Chinese Web sites frequently enough may encounter some of the messages. Some Web sites are devoted exclusively to transplant information.

The China Organ Transplant Site acknowledges that while the state bans organ trading, parties can take advantage of a loophole in which a beneficiary can compensate the donor.

Another site, China Kidney Transplant, which was opened in April by a major kidney transplant hospital in the city of Zhengzhou, Henan, displays as many as 10 messages from people wanting to sell a kidney.

In addition to the fraud case of the fake doctor in Shanghai, several other online swindling cases involving kidney transplants have been reported.

The victims come mainly from poor provinces or regions such as Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Anhui. The desperate appeals provide only a number at which they can be reached and some basic information about their age, health, and blood type. Most make it clear that they reached the decision only after long and painful thought and because of their dire circumstances.

One 32-year-old Heilongjiang man said he needed the money to pay his wife's medical bills. Another man, Liu Yingchun, in one of the few offers from a coastal region, said his Shenzhen factory went bankrupt and he needed 150,000 yuan to pay debts.

The Webmaster of a kidney transplant announcements board posted a strongly worded message last month warning of the illegality of trading in organs in China and threatening to suppress all such messages. But one man, who gave his name as Li Li, sent a message twice on Saturday offering to sell a kidney.

The man wrote that he lost 120,000 yuan in the stock market in 1996 and hoped the kidney could help him pay off the 80,000 yuan he owed. He said he knew that he could be taken advantage of by swindlers and that he was bothered by the idea of damaging his body, but he said he had no choice.

'I just want to get my family out of the mess I put them in,' he said. 'I cannot be bothered to worry about how long I live.'