Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on August 20, 2007
Critics of the anything-goes world of Chinese capitalism often point to the country’s organ trade as an especially grisly example of what’s wrong with the way the rest of the world deals with China. For years, desperately ill people from the U.S., Japan and other wealthy countries have been traveling to China to receive transplanted livers or kidneys or other organs that they can’t get at home. Some (or most, depending on whom you believe) of these Chinese organs came from executed prisoners. And China executes more prisoners than any other country, so there’s no shortage of potential donors.
For years the government allowed this to happen, but more recently has been cracking down. The reason probably has less to do with a sudden case of conscience and instead with an equally powerful emotion: embarrassment. Beijing’s leaders are eager for China to become a science and technology power, and this organ trade was a blot on the country’s image.
So starting last year, the government finally started to take action by first admitting that there was a problem and then taking steps to crack down. In the latest move, as reported by Xinhua the government has given 164 Chinese hospitals the OK to perform organ transplants. That may sound like a lot, but Xinhua points out that previously there were over 600 Chinese hospitals that performed such operations. In classic Xinhua understatement, the news agency reports a Ministry of Health official saying “many of them lacked in effective management, which led to various problems.” In other words, the government didn’t actually regulate the hospitals. And since many of the hospitals were short on cash and eager to find ways to make money, they tapped into the lucrative business of selling organ transplants to foreigners. With China under attack worldwide for its lax regulation of safety standards, the government probably wants to find ways it can improve its image by showing the world that it can indeed tackle its out-of-control entrepreneurs. Cracking down on the organ trade is one high-profile way to do that.