Zheng Qiaozhi — we will call him George — still has nightmares. He was interning at China’s Shenyang Army General Hospital when he was drafted to be part of an organ-harvesting team.
The prisoner was brought in, tied hand and foot, but very much alive. The army doctor in charge sliced him open from chest to belly button and exposed his two kidneys. “Cut the veins and arteries,” he told his shocked intern. George did as he was told. Blood spurted everywhere.
The kidneys were placed in an organ-transplant container.
Then the doctor ordered George to remove the man’s eyeballs. Hearing that, the dying prisoner gave him a look of sheer terror, and George froze. “I can’t do it,” he told the doctor, who then quickly scooped out the man’s eyeballs himself.
George was so unnerved by what he had seen that he soon quit his job at the hospital and returned home. Later, afraid that he might be the next victim of China’s forced organ-transplant business, he fled to Canada and assumed a new identity.
First-person accounts like George’s are understandably rare. The “transplant tourists” who come to China are naturally told nothing about the “donors” of their new heart, liver or kidney. And those who are executed for their organs tell no tales.
Experts estimate that between 60,000 and 100,000 organs are transplanted annually in China. Multiply that number times the cost of a liver transplant ($170,000) or a kidney transplant ($130,000), and the result is an eye-popping $10 billion to 20 billion.
And where do these hundreds of thousands of organs come from? George was told nothing about the background of the young man whose kidneys he fatally removed except that he was “under 18 and in good health.”
But experts like Ethan Gutmann, author of several books on the subject, believe that the vast majority are obtained by executing prisoners of conscience.
One particularly rich source of fresh organs for China’s transplant industry in recent years has been the Falun Gong, which was declared a heretical Buddhist sect in 1999 by then-Party Secretary Jiang Zemin. Hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of the group’s followers have been arrested and disappeared into a vast network of secret prisons, many never to reemerge — at least in one piece.