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Protection of Conscience Project

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Service, not Servitude
Repression of Conscience

Testimony of Wang Guoql

Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

United States House of Representatives
(June 27, 2001)

Introduction

Wang Guoql was a doctor at a Chinese People's Liberation Army Hospital who willingly participated in organ harvesting from executed prisoners. However, after a particularly gruesome experience he experienced a conflict of conscience and tried to avoid further involvement in the process. His initial attempt was rejected and he was met with various forms of pressure to continue his participation. He eventually left China and appeared before a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives, where he provided the following testimony. It is reproduced here with permission from the website of the Laogai Research Foundation)

My name is Wang Guoqi and I am a 38-year-old physician from the People's Republic of China. In 1981, after standard childhood schooling and graduation, I joined the People's Liberation Army. By 1984, I was studying medicine at the Paramilitary Police Paramedical School. I received advanced degrees in Surgery and Human Tissue Studies, and consequently became a specialist in the burn victims unit at the Paramilitary Police Tianjin General Brigade Hospital in Tianjin. My work required me to remove skin and corneas from the corpses of over one hundred executed prisoners, and, on a couple of occasions, victims of intentionally botched executions. It is with deep regret and remorse for my actions that I stand here today testifying against the practices of organ and tissue sales from death row prisoners.

My involvement in harvesting the skin from prisoners began while performing research on cadavers at the Beijing People's Liberation Army Surgeons Advanced Studies School, in Beijing's 304th Hospital. This hospital is directly subordinate to the PLA, and so connections between doctors and officers were very close. In order to secure a corpse from the execution grounds, security officers and court units were given "red envelopes" with cash amounting to anywhere between 200-500 RMB per corpse. Then, after execution, the body would be rushed to the autopsy room rather than the crematorium, and we would extract skin, kidneys, livers, bones, and corneas for research and experimental purposes. I learned the process of preserving human skin and tissue for burn victims, and skin was subsequently sold to needy burn victims for 10 RMB per square centimeter.

After completing my studies in Beijing, and returning to Tianjin's Paramilitary Police General Brigade Hospital, I assisted hospital directors Liu Lingfeng and Song Heping in acquiring the necessary equipment to build China's first skin and tissue storehouse. Soon afterward, I established close ties with Section Chief Xing, a criminal investigator of the Tianjin Higher People's Court.

Acquiring skin from executed prisoners usually took place around major holidays or during the government's Strike Hard campaigns, when prisoners would be executed in groups. Section Chief Xing would notify us of upcoming executions. We would put an order in for the number of corpses we'd like to dissect, and I would give him 300 RMB per cadaver. The money exchange took place at the Higher People's Court, and no receipts or evidence of the transaction would be exchanged.

Once notified of an execution, our section would prepare all necessary equipment and arrive at the Beicang Crematorium in plain clothes with all official license plates on our vehicles replaced with civilian ones. This was done on orders of the criminal investigation section. Before removing the skin, we would cut off the ropes that bound the criminals' hands and remove their clothing. Each criminal had identification papers in his or her pocket that detailed the executee's name, age, profession, work unit, address, and crime. Nowhere on these papers was there any mention of voluntary organ donation, and clearly the prisoners did not know how their bodies would be used after death.

We had to work quickly in the crematorium, and 10-20 minutes were generally enough to remove all skin from a corpse. Whatever remained was passed over to the crematorium workers. Between five and eight times a year, the hospital would send a number of teams to execution sites to harvest skin. Each team could process up to four corpes, and they would take as much as was demanded by both our hospital and fraternal hospitals. Because this system allowed us to treat so many burn victims, our department became the most reputable and profitable department in Tianjin.

Huge profits prompted our hospital to urge other departments to design similar programs. The urology department thus began its program of kidney transplant surgeries. The complexity of the surgery called for a price of $120-150,000 RMB per kidney.

With such high prices, primarily wealthy or high-ranking people were able to buy kidneys. If they had the money, the first step would be to find a donor-recipient match. In the first case of kidney transplantation in August, 1990, I accompanied the urology surgeon to the higher court and prison to collect blood samples from four death-row prisoners. The policeman escorting us told the prisoners that we were there to check their health conditions; therefore, the prisoners did not know the purpose for their blood samples or that their organs might be up for sale. Out of the four samplings, one basic and sub-group blood match was found for the recipient, and the prisoner's kidneys were deemed fit for transplantation.

Once a donor was confirmed, our hospital held a joint meeting with the urology department, burn surgery department, and operating room personnel. We scheduled tentative plans to prepare the recipient for the coming kidney and discussed concrete issues of transportation and personnel. Two days before execution, we received final confirmation from the higher court, and on the day of the execution, we arrived at the execution site in plain clothes. In the morning, the donating prisoner had received a heparin shot to prevent blood clotting and ease the organ extraction process. When all military personnel and condemned prisoners would arrive at the site, the organ-donating prisoner was brought forth for the first execution.

At the execution site, a colleague, Xing Tongyi, and I were responsible for carrying the stretcher. Once the hand-cuffed and leg-ironed prisoner had been shot, a bailiff removed the leg irons. Xing Tongyi and I had 15 seconds to bring the executee to the waiting ambulance. Inside the ambulance, the best urologist surgeons removed both kidneys, and rushed back to the waiting recipient at the hospital. Meanwhile, our burn surgery department waited for the execution of the following three prisoners, and followed their corpses to the crematorium where we removed skin in a small room next to the furnaces. Since our director had business ties with the Tianjin Ophthalmologic Hospital and Beijing's 304th Hospital, he instructed us to extract the executee's corneas as well.

Although I performed this procedure nearly a hundred times in the following years, it was an incident in October 1995 that has tortured my conscience to no end. We were sent to Hebei Province to extract kidneys and skin. We arrived one day before the execution of a man sentenced to death for robbery and the murder of a would-be witness. Before execution, I administered a shot of heparin to prevent blood clotting to the prisoner. A nearby policeman told him it was a tranquilizer to prevent unnecessary suffering during the execution. The criminal responded by giving thanks to the government.

At the site, the execution commander gave the order, "Go!," and the prisoner was shot to the ground. Either because the executioner was nervous, aimed poorly, or intentionally misfired to keep the organs intact, the prisoner had not yet died, but instead lay convulsing on the ground. We were ordered to take him to the ambulance anyway where urologists Wang Zhifu, Zhao Qingling and Liu Qiyou extracted his kidneys quickly and precisely. When they finished, the prisoner was still breathing and his heart continued to beat. The execution commander asked if they might fire a second shot to finish him off, to which the county court staff replied, "Save that shot. With both kidneys out, there is no way he can survive." The urologists rushed back to the hospital with the kidneys, the county staff and executioner left the scene, and eventually the paramilitary policemen disappeared as well. We burn surgeons remained inside the ambulance to harvest the skin. We could hear people outside the ambulance, and fearing it was the victim's family who might force their way inside, we left our job half-done, and the half-dead corpse was thrown in a plastic bag onto the flatbed of the crematorium truck. As we left in the ambulance, we were pelted by stones from behind.

After this incident, I have had horrible, reoccurring nightmares. I have participated in a practice that serves the regime's political and economic goals far more than it benefits the patients. I have worked at execution sites over a dozen times, and have taken the skin from over one hundred prisoners in crematoriums. Whatever impact I have made in the lives of burn victims and transplant patients does not excuse the unethical and immoral manner of extracting organs.

I resolved to no longer participate in the organ business, and my wife supported my decision. I submitted a written report requesting reassignment to another job. This request was flatly denied on the grounds that no other job matched my skills. I began to refuse to take part in outings to execution sites and crematoriums, to which the hospital responded by blaming and criticizing me for my refusals. I was forced to submit a pledge that I would never expose their practices of procuring organs and the process by which the organs and skin were preserved and sold for huge profits. They threatened me with severe consequences, and began to train my replacement. Until the day I left China in the spring of 2000, they were still harvesting organs from execution sites.

I hereby expose all these terrible things to the light in the hope that this will help to put an end to this evil practice.

 

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