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St Louis Post Dispatch: A Chinese Horror Story

August 27, 2006 |  

August 22, 2006

Thousands of Americans travel overseas every year to get low-cost medical care or treatment. A relative handful find their way to China, where for the right price -- as much as $130,000 for a liver and $160,000 for a heart -- organs are available for transplantation.

It's no secret that many of those organs have come from executed prisoners. But there is growing evidence that many are now being obtained from people whose only crime was to practice a form of meditation and exercise called Falun Gong.

This week, Post-Dispatch reporter Deborah L. Shelton documented the case of Huangui Li, 62, who was arrested for distributing banned literature in 2001. Ms. Li, a former mathematics teacher now living in Maryland Heights, says she was taken to a medical facility for tests to judge her suitability for organ donation. She believes her high blood pressure saved her life.

Many Americans have difficulty accepting the claims of Ms. Li and others with similar stories to tell. Removing organs from a live human being for transplanting into a wealthy foreigner seems like a horror movie plot. But an international investigation led by a former member of Canada's parliament concluded last month that "there has been and continues to be the large-scale seizure of organs from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners."

Among evidence cited in the report are statements by the wife of a surgeon who removed the corneas of about 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners between 2001 and 2003. It also cites statements by officials at detention centers in Shanghai, Shandong and the provinces of Guandong, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Henan and Hubei. Some admitted that organs came from Falun Gong practitioners; others simply referred to the availability of "live, beating hearts" or "young, healthy kidneys." As many as 41,500 organs transplanted in China from 2000 to 2005 may have come from prisoners, including Falun Gong practitioners, the report notes.

Many of those who visit China in search of organ transplants come from Asia. But as Ms. Shelton reported, some Americans are making the trip. "We did what we needed to do, and we did everything legally," the wife of one transplant recipient notes on her blog.

Growing numbers of American transplant surgeons report seeing patients who have had Chinese organ transplants. Officials from the United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates donations and transplants in the United States, issued a formal statement last month decrying transplant tourism, in which an American travels overseas to buy an organ from a poor person in the developing world. It already is illegal to buy an organ in this country, as it is in the rest of the developed world.

Congress should go one step further. It should make it illegal for Americans to travel overseas for transplants in any country where credible evidence shows forced donation or organ sales.

After hearings at which evidence of prisoners being forced to donate organs was presented in 2001, Congress moved to ban Chinese transplant surgeons from receiving additional training in the United States. After the 9/11 attacks, the measure died. It should be revived.

Many people would be willing to go a long way to save their own lives or that of a loved one. But traveling to China, where someone may be coerced or executed to provide organs for transplant, is beyond the pale.

Source http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/editorialcommentary/story/512CF02D059C4A06862571D10081EAFA?OpenDocument&highlight=2%2C 0.000000alun%22