China launched its first national organ donation system in a bid to crack down on organ trafficking and create a source for transplants other than executed prisoners, who currently make up the majority of donors.
Executed criminals account for 65 percent of organ donors, the China Daily said on Wednesday, in an unusual admission of the prevalence of the practice.
(Executed prisoners) are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants, Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu told the paper.
Nearly 1.5 million people in China need organ transplants, but every year only 10,000 people can get one, according to the Health Ministry's website www.moh.gov.cn.
The shortage means that desperate patients bid up the price, and contributes to corruption and unfairness in organ allocation.
China's 2007 organ transplant law bans organ trafficking. But illegal transplants from living donors, and tales of foreigners traveling to China for the transplants, are frequently reported by media and the Ministry of Health.
Transplants should not be a privilege for the rich, said Huang.
Chinese law only allows organs to be donated by living people in the case of blood relatives and spouses.
But organ middlemen who specialize in faking documents have helped bring living transplants to 40 percent of donations, from 15 percent in 2006, Chen Zhonghua, organ transplant specialist at Tongji Hospital in Shanghai, told the China Daily.
The new donation system, piloting in 10 provinces and cities, will encourage post-death donations and start a fund to provide financial aid to the needy and to donors' families.
The system is in the public interest and will benefit patients regardless of social status and wealth in terms of fairness in organ allocation and better procurement, Huang said.