House of Representatives advances bill against China’s live organ harvesting

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday voted on a bill to sanction those involved in China’s decades-long program of organ harvesting from political prisoners, a cruel practice experts believe began after the establishment of concentration camps for Muslims in China was significantly expanded in 2017.

The bill, the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who last year organized a hearing in which experts on the issues detailed the testimonies of concentration camp survivors, who typically are camp victims observed about 28-year-olds disappearing “in the middle of the night” after medical tests and believed to have been killed for their organs. Alongside Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims, the victims of dictator Xi Jinping’s concentration camp apparatus in occupied East Turkistan, members of the spiritual movement Falun Gong have for decades accused China of killing their members to sell their organs on the international black market.

“Under Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, the cruelty of murdering between 60,000 and 100,000 young victims — with an average age of 28 — each year to steal their organs is unimaginable,” Smith said Wednesday in a statement following the approval of his draft legislation at the committee level. The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the House of Representatives, where members will debate it and possibly pass it into law.

The Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act — a bipartisan law co-sponsored by Reps Michael McCaul (R-TX), Bill Keating (D-MA) and Kathy Manning (D-NC) — would require the U.S. government, among other provisions Participate in reporting on trafficking in human beings to steal their organs and sanction those involved in live organ harvesting and the black market sale of stolen organs. Penalties vary depending on the nationality of the person involved: the secretary of state can refuse to issue a passport to an American convicted of violating organ theft laws, while the law allows aliens involved in the practice to be taken off American soil to ban. Because of pre-existing agreements with the United Nations, the law would not prevent a foreigner involved – Xi Jinping, for example – from visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York, although it could potentially apply to the rest of the country.

Falun Gong protesters hold a placard reading “Stop Organ Harvesting in China” during a demonstration in London, UK. (Belinda Jlao/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The law, if enacted into law, would also “block and prohibit all transactions involving property and property interests and would render that person ineligible for entry into the United States and for obtaining a visa,” according to Rep. Smith’s office.

Years of painstaking investigations by human rights activists, journalists and human trafficking experts have uncovered a mountain of evidence suggesting that the Chinese Communist Party has been using political prisoners as involuntary organ donors since the 1990s. According to Enver Tohti, a Uyghur surgeon who has repeatedly testified that he was forced to excise organs from at least one prisoner, the practice likely began in at least 1990 in East Turkestan, the Uyghur heartland. Tohti claims that in 1995, Chinese communist officials forced him to cut out the heart of a man who looked like a prisoner and had just received a gunshot wound to the head. The heart still seemed to be beating as he took the man’s kidneys and liver.

“My chief surgeons were happy to put these organs, a liver and two kidneys, in a weird looking box,” Tohti told Canada’s House of Commons. “Then they said, ‘Okay, now get your team back to the hospital and remember, nothing happened today.'”

Tohti’s revelations were pivotal in launching the first full-scale investigations into the Chinese government’s organ harvesting initiatives, Bloody Harvest and The Slaughter, by former Canadian lawmaker David Kilgour, human rights lawyer David Matas and journalist Ethan Gutmann. The studies found that in addition to Uyghur prisoners, the target group included Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Christians. The researchers began their investigations and found discrepancies between China’s reported organ donations and the number of transplants recorded nationally.

Gutmann and Tohti testified at Rep. Smith’s hearing on forced organ harvesting in May and confirmed that evidence indicates the practice persists in the present.

“If we assume that at any point since 2017 there are about a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Hui living in the camps, my estimate is that 25,000 to 50,000 camp inmates are harvested every year,” Gutmann explained. “Theoretically, two or three organs can be removed from 28-year-olds from the camps in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), which corresponds to a minimum of 50,000 organs or a maximum of 150,000 organs.”

A banner in Chinatown reading ‘Stop Organ Harvesting’ in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 29, 2017. Members of the Chinese community are protesting organ harvesting from minority groups in mainland China. (Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty)

Gutmann called on the West to distance itself from the practice.

“We must eliminate all western contact with the transplant industry in mainland China,” he suggested. “No Chinese transplant surgeons in our medical journals, our universities and our conferences. And a freeze on all surgical device sales, pharmaceutical development and testing in China.”

A study published last year by the Australian National University added further evidence that China uses political prisoners as involuntary donors – and added evidence suggesting organ theft serves as a form of execution.

“The head of China’s transplant sector wrote in 2007 that in fact 95% of all organ transplants came from prisoners,” the study said. “(Given that the donors could not have been brain dead before the organs were removed, the explanation of brain death could not have been medically sound.”

“It follows that the deaths in these cases must have been caused by the surgeons who obtained the organ,” the researchers concluded. “If the reports we have examined are accurate, they indicate that the surgeon’s removal of the heart and lungs was the immediate cause of the prisoner’s death, thereby directly implicating the surgeon in the execution.”

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