Life as an Extreme Sport

Organ Sales in China

I forgot to link to this, didn’t I? It appears that organ sales are booming in China, and the organs are being harvested from prisoners. Not that this is some great surprise, but that people are being executed on an as-needed basis is… disconcerting.

Of course, in the comments for the article, someone tries to argue that Buddhist perspectives on organ donation limit the number of people who will consent to donation, thus China has to have a thriving organ sales market. Problem is, the prisoner is dead, so they’re not getting the money from the sale, and the prisoner’s family isn’t, either. In fact, it’s being presented as a “gift to society” – a gift with a hefty pricetag for the person skipping their country’s donation list to move to the head of the Chinese class.

Anyhow! I take exception to the idea that Buddhist perspectives on organ donation limit the number of donations, unless it’s from a purely practical, China censoring Buddhist leaders perspective. As I said in the comment thread, although there is the typical sitting for the bardo, which requires that the body remain where it is for three days past signs of cessation of life (in order for the essence to leave the body, and not remain in a lingering state, a sort of ghost of the word – a literal getting over attachment to the body, if you will), over the last 20 years most of the high ranking folk in Buddhism have come out strongly in favour of organ donation – it is, after all, a painless way of gaining merit.

If you really want to talk from a Buddhist perspective, you do have to question whether or not someone in jail is being pressured into doing something they might not want to do, or be comfortable doing. Jail, and knowing you’re going to be killed – that’s a pretty coercive environment. While donation of organs is a marvelous karmic boon, it’s only good if it’s done voluntarily and with no anxiety.

The concern becomes the taking of an organ of someone who was coerced into donating, or who did not consent or voluntarily give their organs – this could be viewed as karmically negative, of contributing to harm of another person. Your need/desire to overcome your body/shell’s imperfections to attain a longer/healthier life causing the death of another person would be a very bad thing. Given the report and the questions raised by the BBC, I’d think Buddhists in China would be wary about accepting organ donation, not about donating themselves.


  1. Interesting analysis. I just got done watching The Tibetan Book of the Dead narrated by Leonard Cohen. And your analysis seems absolutely consistent with the attitudes surrounding the bardo. I guess it just goes to show that the capitalist commies facilitating the transaction are certainly not buddhists.

    What of the case of the buddhist prisoner who has relinquished his or her body recognizing the temporary nature of this existence and its bardo? In other words, could a true buddhist be coerced into organ donation?

    I guess the main point is that all the unenlightened wealthy westerners are causing suffering by clinging to life and thereby creating the economic conditions for this nefarious organ donor market. The bardo ritual is a nice little system in that it does not encourage this kind of economic reality.

  2. In other words, could a true buddhist be coerced into organ donation
    I think that it would take a very composed and practiced person to comfortably make the decision to consent to transplant post-mortem when the mortality bit itself was being driven by the needs of a third party and their schedule. Knowing that your death is being arranged by people with a financial motive in it seems disconcerting enough that I’d be strongly suspicious of anyone being able to consent. This is partly why we have only case-by-case acceptance of organ donation among our own prison population; we acknowledge that the environment doesn’t lend itself to charity and giving, but coercion and fear.

    The bardo ritual is a nice little system in that it does not encourage this kind of economic reality.
    Well, yes, except that it’s outdated and poses health risks, and if you strictly follow it, doesn’t allow for donation. The karmic boon to donation is such, and the plain benefit to the person receiving the organ, that most Buddhists (in non-coercive situations) should tend towards donation. Any particular damage for the bardo journey would easily be mitigated by the karmic bonus received.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying that if science proves Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism must change. This is one of those instances where Buddhism is rapidly changing, to adjust to the realities of modern science and how it impacts others.

  3. I would like to point out the fact “ability to pay” is a compelling factor in our transplant industry, no less so than China. In US the uninsured are left out of the organ wait list, while the rich go on wait list and receive organs in days or weeks, too.

    It is refered to as “wallet biopsy”. 2004 clinical data from shows thousands of patients in US (top 10% of wait list) averaged a 10 day wait period for liver transplant.

    Does that mean we too are selling organ?

    As to the claim it’s not possible for the condemned in China to consent to donation, I would like to point out that China is not the only country that allows the death row inmate to donate organ. In US it is allowed on a case-by-case basis.

    For reference, here’s a report I found in the Chinese media, about a guy who turned himself in for killing his wife’s lover. Before he was to pay with his life, he decided to donate his organ as last act of redemption, and willed the organ donation compensation fund paid by the state to the victim’s family. In his interview he indicated the reason he called for press is to help bring awareness to organ donation in China:

    Many such cases exists in China:

    Some folks simply disregard Chinese media’s reporting about themselves, insisting on what they know about China, like Buddhist culture and people’s desire to die “whole” (probably learned from the movie “The Last Emperor”.)

    It probably is still true to some degree, but folks forget most Chinese are not criminals. Does one really believe “wholeness” applies to criminals in Buddhism? Above article demonstrates a common rationale for the condemned to consent to organ donation – the Buddhist desire for redemption.

    Chinese culture and Buddhist religious foundation makes organ donation difficult to promote. However the condemned often seek redemption and last act of contribution to family and society, under the same cultural and religious foundation.

    Yes, the Chinese government’s organ donation compensation fund seems to be direct at this population, but its aim is to promote organ donation by the population at large.

    I believe it is fair to say this issue is not only debatable, the Chinese are debating it – as the above search engine results show a range of opinions.

    To me this really demonstrates that China’s problems isn’t all that black and white. China too have their dilemmas and choices, and their own history to evaluate (and overcome).

    In contrast, to condemn China with emotionally satisfying conclusion only serves ones ego, I submit.

  4. No Charles, it doesn’t mean that we’re selling organs. You can’t come here, offer someone at UNOS $30,000, and have an organ the next day, or even week. Yes, wallet biopsy is a common joke in hospitals, and it’s a sad reality that medical costs and poor coverage do influence people’s medical decisions and care, but it’s not anywhere near the same thing. People in the United States are not losing their lives because a wealthy person from China, Europe, or whatever country you’d like to pull out of a hat are deciding they don’t want to take the chance on their own country’s organ transplant list, and are instead using their finances to jump to the head of the list. That is what selling an organ is.

    This is not a case of “allowing” people on death row to donate, something that is highly contentuous and very rare in the United States. This is a clear case of someone going to China and arranging to have a type-matched organ available at a convenient time – this very much implies that the prisoner is being killed for the organ. Again, not at all comparable to what occurs in the United States.

    For reference, here’s a report I found in the Chinese media,
    Sorry, but the Chinese media holds virtually no meaning, as they are strongly controlled by the government and are not allowed to do unbiased reporting. Find me an unbiased source writing from outside the country, and I’ll consider it. Anything from within China, however, must be considered as propaganda.

    At any rate, your entire post is merely a cut and paste of what you posted over on the AJOB blog, and to which I replied there, correcting your numerous inaccuracies about Buddhism – which I did here, as well. Which you might have noticed had you actually read the post, rather than simply copy and paste. As such, I simply refer anyone reading this to look at my original post, as well as reply to Gordon, to see the response to this asinine point of view.

    In contrast, to condemn China with emotionally satisfying conclusion only serves ones ego, I submit.
    You can submit it all you want, but you’re wrong. Ego has nothing to do with this; it’s about ethics, and the fact that China is killing its prisoners to sell organs to wealthy, impatient Westerners who have no problem using people as cattle, and the government that is happy to take the money and run.

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