NTD India brings you an exclusive Q&A with Ethan Gutmann—a U.S. investigative journalist, human rights defender, an award-winning China analyst, author, and the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. The talk focuses on one of the gravest issues of today’s world: forced live organ harvesting from the prisoners of conscience by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
According to a major investigative report released by Gutmann, which he co-authored with former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour and Canadian human rights attorney David Matas, the Chinese communist regime is engaged in harvesting organs from prisoners of faith for profit. The 700-page report, Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update, highlights that China’s transplant volume is six to ten times higher than the official Chinese estimates.
Gutmann was nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for investigative journalism and for advocacy of a better China. His book, The Slaughter, published in 2014, profiled several doctors and surgeons who had either participated in live organ harvesting in China or had contact with the mainland Chinese hospitals engaged in exploiting organs from the spiritual group called Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa). He was invited to testify in Washington, London, and Brussels, while Congressional and European Parliament resolutions explicitly condemned China’s organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience.
NTD India: China has literally emerged as a major “organ transplantation hub.” However, per recent reports, the majority of these organs are not from voluntary donors. This mere fact has led the international community to pressurize the Chinese communist regime to make its organ transplant system transparent and traceable. How do you view China’s efforts to curb this organ trade?
Ethan Gutmann: The Chinese medical establishment likes to tell positive stories to the West: Yes, we used to harvest organs from prisoners, now we only use voluntary donations. Yes, we only perform about 10,000 transplants per year. Yes, if you ever hear bad things about innocent people being harvested for their organs in China that must be “illegal trafficking.”
These are stories the West wants to hear. It means we don’t have to do anything. No conflict. Business as usual. And yet, Chinese medical spokesmen say one thing to us in Europe and say something completely different in the Chinese internal media. For example, they pledged to the West that they would stop the harvesting the organs of prisoners—supposedly it was a “voluntary” procedure—on Jan. 1, 2015. In the Chinese media, the same spokesmen said that death-row prisoners could now voluntarily “donate” their organs. The reform was little more than a semantic trick.
Similarly, if you look at the internal reports of Chinese hospitals and transplant centers, as we did in our recent Update—680 pages with over 2,000 footnotes directly referencing mainland sources—you will find that China is performing 60,000 transplants per year at a minimum. In fact, China leads the world in transplants. That report is available for anyone to critically examine at endorganpillaging.org
Where do all those organs come from? A small portion—very small—come from voluntary donations. The vast majority of the organs are extracted from death-row prisoners or from political and religious prisoners. It is the latter group that particularly concerns us because religious prisoners are not criminals. They are innocent people who cannot even be legally sentenced to death—even under China’s absurd legal system. Yet they are slaughtered for their organs in military and civilian hospitals. Every province in China has a major center. “Illegal trafficking”? No. This [is] state-run mass-murder.
NTD India: Where is this issue heading?
Ethan Gutmann: Our data goes up to June 2016, and we saw no sign of the transplant industry retracting in 2015. Instead we see continuity, transplant center construction, surgeons being hired. Not long ago, the Chinese medical establishment announced that they intend to double their transplant capacity from 165 centers to 300. That’s the real “business as usual.”
Where will those organs come from? According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Chinese police are bragging that they have mapped out the individual DNA of the majority of the Uyghurs, the long-persecuted Muslims of Northwest China. That means that millions of people—men, women and children—are now potentially ripe for tissue-matching and organ harvesting. In short, the Chinese may be moving from mass-murder into—and I do not use this word lightly—genocide.
NTD India: According to the report, the sources of these organs are political prisoners and prisoners of faith mostly belonging to minority religious groups. Why is the Chinese organ transplant industry specifically targeting only these groups?
Ethan Gutmann: Falun Gong, Uyghurs, Tibetans, House Christians—the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees all these groups as enemies of the state. Falun Gong organs are particularly prized because they don’t drink or smoke.
NTD India: In your opinion, how many people have been victimized?
Ethan Gutmann: The largest group is Falun Gong, and the interviews for my 2014 book, The Slaughter, established a rough range of Falun Gong incarcerated at any given time: 450,000 to a million people. In 2017, I would go with the lower half of that range, perhaps as low as 250,000. Now the Uyghurs are coming online: there are 10 to 15 million of them, and if the Chinese police now has a DNA sample from half of that population—well, you do the math. Every one of these people can potentially be harvested for at least two or three organs, say the liver, the heart, and one of the kidneys. It just has to be done quickly, with tissue-matched recipients in the same location.
NTD India: How is it possible for any government, let alone the Chinese, to “extract” organs from living prisoners?
Ethan Gutmann: They are murdered, to order, while they are still alive. Like cutting fresh flowers in running water, a fresh organ is far less likely to be rejected by its new host. The first experimental live-harvests were carried out in Northwest China in 1994. Today, in transplant centers across China, prisoner organs are routinely removed while the victim’s heart is still beating and transplanted immediately. The so-called ‘donor,’ of course, does not survive the operation.
NTD India: How do you view the actions taken by the international community to stop these gruesome human rights abuses?
Ethan Gutmann: Beginning in 2016, all major Western press outlets began serious coverage of Chinese organ harvesting, upending three attempts by the Chinese Medical establishment to whitewash the issue in international conferences. Simultaneously, the U.S. House of Representatives and the European Parliament passed nearly identical resolutions expressing concern over “persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience.” Four countries have effectively banned organ tourism to China: Israel, Taiwan, Italy, and of course, Spain. And when I visited Spain earlier this year, I was happy to be in a country which has clean hands.
The problem, from my perspective, is in certain elements of the Western medical leadership, specifically The Transplantation Society. While their hearts may be in the right place—I think they want the Chinese to end the organ harvesting of prisoners of all stripes, just as we do—they have no China background and even less understanding of human rights work. Western surgeons are understandably eager to please their Chinese hosts and build bridges with a great nation. So the Chinese exploit them, as the old Marxist expression goes, as “useful idiots” for internal and external propaganda. Yet what we and many Western doctors have discovered is an ongoing crime against humanity.
No matter how enticing China’s money and power may be, the world must come to grips with this. If not now, then I am confident that the recent press coverage has ensured that China—and the West’s response—will be judged by historians to come.
NTD India: Since 1951, the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China have had no diplomatic relations. Recently, Pope Francis has been trying to restore the ties with China; it’s quite an irony because the communist country is still persecuting house church Catholics. What is your take on this?
Ethan Gutmann: The Vatican has had its eye on a rapprochement with China for decades. The current Pope—in part because he is not from Eastern Europe but from South America where arrangements between the church and Communist governments are quite common—is particularly interested in a deal. The true history of Chinese organ harvesting is a massive impediment to making this deal. That is why some from the Vatican are eager not just to whitewash history, but to actively suppress the truth. Others in the Vatican feel differently—as do many active Catholics in Hong Kong for example. I am not a praying man, but if I were, I would pray that they read this interview.
NTD India: In 2017, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences made headlines after inviting a Chinese surgeon for the Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism. How far was this official gesture justified?
Ethan Gutmann: You are referring to Huang Jiefu, a liver transplant surgeon who acts as sort of master of ceremonies for the Chinese transplant world. He was invited to speak at a Vatican conference—while colleagues of mine such as David Kilgour and David Matas were snubbed. Yet underneath it all, the Vatican knows that Huang Jiefu has blood on his hands. It only took one article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, a respected New York Times reporter, asking why the Chinese were invited to the conference at all for the Pope to cancel his previously scheduled appearance. It was a humiliating setback for the Chinese Communist Party—and for those in the Vatican who support them.
NTD India: How do you view the relationship between Catholic Patriotic Association, an organization established by Chinese regime in 1957, and the Catholics being persecuted?
Ethan Gutmann: Any Chinese Catholic who will not work with the State-run church is considered a dissident, a so-called “House Christian.” I established in my book that Chinese military doctors have administered physical examinations to House Christians in labor camps that exclusively examine the health of their retail organs: kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and corneas. This finding is published, peer-reviewed, and the interview tapes are available to the Vatican. No good will come from pretending that this didn’t happen. It happened. And that finding must be the Vatican’s first concern in any proposed deal with China.
NTD India: You have invested huge time and effort into the groundbreaking report and your book The Slaughter. How would you sum up the impact the investigation had on you and the overall research experience?
Ethan Gutmann: No one can interview the dead. But my interview of the living survivors establish that entire families in China have been ripped apart by the loss of loved ones who have disappeared into the labor camps and military hospitals and are never seen again. I have a Jewish background. The pain of seeing history repeat itself using doctors as the vehicle of mass murder? I can’t stomach this.
I promised the survivors that I would get their story out there; this is why I have worked on this issue for a decade. Over the last year, for the first time—even doing this interview with you today—I feel like I am finally keeping that promise.