After a Chinese hospital was accused of illegally harvesting organs in 2016, the number of transplants is still significantly higher than the number of organ donors in the country.
It is believed that underground harvesting targets marginalized groups such as Falun Gong members, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Christians.
In 2016, a report was released claiming China was engaging in the widespread and systematic harvesting organs of prisoners. The report estimates between 60,000 and 100,000 organs are harvested and transplanted each year.
“The [Communist Party] says the total number of legal transplants is about 10,000 a year,” human rights attorney David Matas told CNN in 2016 when the accusations first surfaced. “But we can easily surpass the official Chinese figure just by looking at the two or three biggest hospitals.”
The illegal harvesting is difficult to prove, according to The Wall Street Journal. The only available witnesses are those whose organs were forcibly removed and the doctors, police officers and prison guards involved in the removal process.
One of the biggest obstacles to the investigation is that many of the forced donors do not survive the operations due to the loss of vital organs, according to Forbes.
Despite the difficulties researchers have faced while investigating the alleged organ harvesting, Forbes reports that “researchers make a clear case that the vast majority of the unreported cases of organ transplants are the illegal practice of forced organ removal.”
The independent group known as the China Tribunal was formed to further investigate the organ harvesting and has spoken to several witnesses who support the accusations.
“The Tribunal’s members are all certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims,” Sir Geoffrey Nice of the China Tribunal said in an interim judgement on Dec. 11 2018.
China is facing international backlash as a result of the accusations. There have been calls for the United Kingdom to restrict travel to China due to some reports of British residents receiving illegal organ transplants. The UK would not be the first to impose an organ tourism ban; Spain, Italy, Israel and Taiwan all have restricted travel to China due to similar allegations.
“It is wrong that people should travel from [the UK] to China for what is almost a live organ on demand to suit themselves,” Jim Shannon, a member of the British Parliament told The Guardian. “It is hard to take in what that means—it leaves one incredulous. It means someone can sit in London or in Newtownards and order an organ to be provided on demand. Within a month they can have the operation.”
China has repeatedly cited articles 7 and 8 of their human organ transplant regulations when refuting the accusations. “The donation of human organs shall be made under the principle of free will and free of charge,” article 7 states, according to The Guardian. “A citizen shall be entitled to donate or not to donate his or her human organ; and any organization or person shall not force, cheat or entice others in donating their human organs.”