Chinese prisoners
Chinese prisoners Reuters

The Chinese government has said that it will phase out its controversial practice of donating the organs from the bodies of executed prisoners over the next three to five years, according to reports in Chinese state media.

The Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese medical officials will seek to establish a transparent national system for human organ donation in order to encourage organ donors.

China’s vice minister of health, Huang Jiefu, told a conference in the city of Hangzhou: The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government.”

BBC reported that two-thirds of transplanted organs in China come from executed prisoners, citing state media estimates. Amnesty International also confirms this figure.

China faces a shortage of transplant organs and has long relied on organs from condemned prisoners, apparently with their prior consent.

According to the Chinese ministry of health, while 1.5 million people in China need transplants annually, only about 10,000 organ transplants are actually performed each year.

Reportedly, many Chinese are reluctant to donate their organs, partially due to traditional beliefs which hold that the human body should be buried in whole. There is also widespread distrust of the medical system, which further precludes voluntary donations.

Five years ago China officially banned the trafficking or organs, however, such black market activity it still a big problem, according to reports.

Minister Huang further noted that prisoners do not make ideal organ donors since they typically have high rates of fungal and bacterial infections -- leading to reduced survival rates for organ transplant recipients.

Human rights activists claim that inmates on Death Row are often pressured into donating their organs, BBC noted. Moreover, untold thousands of Chinese prisoners are executed each year (Beijing does not reveal the actual number). The Wall Street Journal reported that activists believe the need for organs influences the rapid rate of executions.

[Chinese government] officials repeatedly make announcements every few years [for organ donations], but they don't appear to have a solid plan in place, Sarah Schafer, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Amnesty International told the Journal.