Six people, including several doctors, have been jailed in China for illegally harvesting organs from patients who died in hospital.
According to local media, the trafficking ring included high-ranking doctors who worked in hospital organ procurement, the BBC reports.
The group would target car crash victims or patients who died from strokes at the Huaiyuan County People’s Hospital in Anhui province in eastern China.
The hospital’s intensive care unit director, Dr Yang Suxun, would approach family members and ask if they would consent to donating their loved one’s organs to official organ banks.
The family members would sign consent forms and the body would then be wheeled out of the hospital in the middle of the night and put into a van made to look like an ambulance where doctors would remove the organs, according to local media reports.
The organs would then be sold to private individuals or other hospitals.
They were eventually unmasked when the son of one of the victims grew suspicious.
Several months after his mother’s death in 2018, he rechecked the documents his family had signed when they agreed to donate her organs. He found several discrepancies and then discovered there were no records of his mother’s donation with provincial authorities or the China Organ Donation Administrative Centre in Beijing.
When he asked Yang about this, he was offered a large sum of money to say nothing, he told local news outlet Dazhongwang. “That’s when I was sure that something very strange was going on,” he said. He promptly alerted the authorities.
The six men in the organ trafficking ring were sentenced in July for “deliberately destroying corpses” and harvesting organs without authorisation. The case has only come to light now after the son spoke to local media.
Until 2015, China harvested the organs of executed prisoners to help meet demand, a practice criticised worldwide.
The country now relies on public donations to its national organ bank but donor rates in China are much lower than in other parts of the world so it struggles to keep pace with demand.