WASHINGTON — US lawmakers called Wednesday for pressure on China to stop the use of organs from executed inmates, as experts charged that transplants had become a business that may target prisoners of conscience.
At a congressional hearing, experts said the United States could act by restricting its citizens from seeking suspicious transplants overseas and by pressing Chinese doctors through international professional organizations.
China acknowledges it has relied on executed inmates for transplants but has promised to curb the practice within five years. But it has strongly denied that it deliberately executes prisoners to harvest organs.
Representative Chris Smith, a Republican long active on human rights, voiced concern at charges that prisoners from the banned Falungong spiritual movement and ethnic minority groups were singled out.
"This possibility -- and this probability -- pushes us into the horrific beyond that challenges our language, making 'barbaric' too calm of a word," Smith said at the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"If this is true, even the powerful fraught legal term 'crimes against humanity' seems inadequate," he said.
Damon Noto, part of the advocacy group Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, said that numbers did not add up in China, where cultural taboos have traditionally ruled out voluntary donations of organs.
China does not provide figures on the death penalty or transplants, but Noto said experts estimated that between 2,000 and 8,000 people were executed each year and that around 10,000 organ transplants are taking place each year.
"Even if they executed 10,000 a year and transplanted 10,000 a year, there would still be a very large discrepancy," Noto said.
"Why is that? It's simply impossible that those 10,000 people executed would match perfectly the 10,000 people that needed the organs," he said.
Organs are only usable for a limited time after a person dies, with a heart lasting around eight hours. China generally executes prisoners swiftly after their sentences.
Noto said that Falungong members, who often hide their true names to protect their families, frequently undergo medical exams during incarceration.
"If you look at the timeline of the onset of China's boom in transplantations and the onset of the persecution of Falungong, it almost runs in complete parallel with both of them starting in 1999," Noto said.
China, which executes more prisoners than the rest of the world combined, said in 2009 that it required written consent of prisoners for their organs.
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