Government and Policy

Stiffer penalties proposed for organ trade

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-24 07:16
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BEIJING - China is intensifying its crackdown on the illegal buying and selling of human organs in a draft amendment to the Criminal Law that will outlaw the trafficking and unauthorized harvesting of human organs.

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The draft amendment was submitted on Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, for its first reading.

It states that those involved in the illegal trade of human organs, including organizing, coercing and tricking others into donating and taking human organs from a deceased person without the donor's consent, will be subject to a five-year or longer jail sentence, plus fines and confiscation of property.

Each year in China nearly 1 million people need kidney transplants and 300,000 need liver transplants, but only around 1 percent can get them legitimately due to a lack of donations, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

Organ trafficking "seriously harms the society and arouses people's strong reactions," said Li Shishi, director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Anyone who solicits others to sell human organs will get five years in jail and a fine, the draft amendment reads. In "serious situations," the jail term could be more than five years with a fine or property confiscation, it says.

Harvesting organs without consent of the owner, harvesting organs from people younger than 18, or forcing or cheating others to donate organs will be punished according to Article 234, which addresses the intentional injury of others' bodies.

In 2007, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued a regulation banning organ trafficking.

But the huge gap between supply and demand has led to unethical practices in organ trafficking, experts agree.

Of the approximately 10,000 organ transplants in China last year, more than 3,000 were from living donors, almost six times that in 2008, official statistics showed.

"A considerable number of them were done with fake identities from hired donors," said vice health minister Huang Jiefu, also a leading liver transplant expert.

Lin Yagang, a criminal law professor with Wuhan University, told China Daily on Monday that if the amendment is passed, deterrence, punishment and enforcement for the crimes will "be elevated from an administrative level to a new height of judiciaries."

The latest amendment stipulates that if organs are harvested from a deceased person whose relatives did not consent, or if the deceased person did not express consent for the donation before death, punishments will be in line with Article 302 of the Criminal Law.

Professor Lin said a loophole in the amendment needs to be plugged since Article 302 sets punishment for stealing and harming a human body, which literally means an intact unit.

"It does not specify that punishment also applies to harming body parts like organs," Lin said.

The country has rolled out a pilot program for developing a national organ donation system in 10 provinces and municipalities, including Tianjin, Shanghai, Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong.