Network for organ donations in China to end prison harvesting

Transplant patients in most need to be targeted under new computerised system that will end the reliance on organs from executed prisoners

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 8:53am

A computerised system to match transplant organs to patients and end the reliance on harvesting organs from executed criminals and the black market is being introduced on the mainland.

Sweeping reforms designed to ensure a fair and transparent system also mean that organ donation co-ordinators will be required to obtain professional qualifications.

Probably, in less than two years, the reliance on death row inmates will be gone
Veteran organ transplant surgeon

The new system, similar to the United Network for Organ Sharing in the United States, will be introduced from September 1, according to national health commission officials.

It will allocate organs through a centralised computer network among the 165 mainland hospitals allowed to carry out transplants, Xinhua reported.

Doctors who use organs other than those obtained from the centralised sharing network will be disqualified.

The new rules will give mainland hospitals an open, unified and fair platform to share organs donated by volunteer donors.

Up until now, hospitals have had to source organs through their own channels and were reluctant to share with each other.

Decisions on allocation are often opaque and arbitrary, giving rise to corruption and abuses.

A veteran organ transplant surgeon at a military hospital yesterday hailed the network as a significant improvement because "all the donated organs - even those obtained from executed prisoners - will enter a sharing network and be allocated to the patients most in need".

He said it would also encourage more people to become organ donors as they could be sure their donation would be used in a fair and transparent way.

"Probably, in less than two years, the reliance on death row inmates will be gone," he said.

China now conducts more than 10,000 organ transplants each year, with only the US carrying out more. It is the only large country that still systematically uses organs harvested from executed prisoners.

Former deputy health minister Huang Jiefu, who still heads the ministry's organ transplant office, wrote in the medical journal The Lancet last year that 65 per cent of transplant operations on the mainland used organs from deceased donors, of which 90 per cent were executed prisoners.

Since the Supreme Court introduced stricter rules in 2007, the number of executed prisoners has declined, making the present system unsustainable.

The harvesting of organs from executed prisoners also raised moral objections and doctors have urged the introduction of a more humane and fair system.

In March 2010, a voluntary organ donation programme was launched in 11 provinces and cities including Tianjin , Shanghai, Nanjing , Xiamen , Wuhan and Guangdong under the supervision of the Red Cross.

Donated organs now account for nearly 15 per cent of all organ transplants, from almost zero three years ago. Almost a fifth of these are donated kidneys, according to figures from the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Donation co-ordinators will have to be doctors and nurses with at least two years of clinical experience and will need to obtain a professional qualification.