Friday, May 04, 2007

Enlightenment 2.0 and a Hong Kong student post on the Chinese organ trade

Connections are established, reinforced, strengthened. The river finds a new channel. The new flow alters other flows and channels. The river and the landscape think, solving problems in hydrology and geography.

That's how we imagine that our minds work. That's the way Hopfield explained it to me around 1981, when he and others returned to the long interrupted study of neural networks. That's the way Google forges connections, doing forward and back chaining. That's the way a hive thinks, and our hivemind grows.

This is a story of the Chinese organ trade, and the hivemind. It begins with a feed.

I wrote a Google Blog Search query a while back that generated an RSS feed that's tracked by my bloglines reader. Bloglines notifies me when the search returns a new link to my blog. It's a erratic process; sometimes links appear immediately, sometimes I get a link that was formed a year ago. Most often I discover a "splog" has taken a post of mine, turned it into a splog post, and I'm just seeing an externalized version of my internal links.

Every so often though, it returns something fascinating. Today it uncovered an article on China's organ trade law written by a Hong Kong journalism student today as part of a class exercise (JMSC 0042 I presume). I've corrected some trivial spelling and grammar errors. Emphases mine.
International News (JMSC 0042) - Organ Trade finally banned in China

candicecheng - May 4, 2007 @ 10:37 am · Uncategorized

Xinhua reported (May 1) that China’s first set of regulations on human organ transplant took effect on Tuesday.

The new regulations, issued by the State Council, ban organizations and individuals from trading human organs in any form. Doctors found to be involved in the process will have their practitioner licenses revoked. Clinics against the new regulations will also be suspended for at least three years. The fines are fixed to be between eight to ten times of the outlawed trade value. (See full set of regulations in simplified Chinese.)

The regulations also state that human organ transplants should follow the principle of free will. And obtaining organs, such as the heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas, without the owner’s permission or free will is a crime. ( Learn more about organ transplant here.)

The regulations, however, do not apply to transplants of human tissue, such as cells, cornea and marrow.

China has operated organ transplants for more than 20 years. It is the world’s second largest performer of transplants after the United States, with about 5,000 transplants operated each year.

Legal organ donations are made by ordinary Chinese at death with a donation agreement signed voluntarily during lifetime.

Nevertheless, there has been a huge gap between the demand for functional organs and the supply of donations. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, about 1.5 million patients need organ transplants each year but there are only 10000 organs transplanted.

This gave rise to a flourishing black market of organ trade. Wealthy Chinese or foreigners who are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars can arrange the deal with a broker and have their transplants done in a week’s time. It is reported that a kidney costs around $80,000. Nevertheless, most of the time, the source of the organ is unknown. (See a transplant tourism story here.)

China was recently being accused of selling organs from executed prisoners and was heavily criticized by human right groups. Officials did not deny the practice but said that they did it with the consent of the prisoners. Families of the prisoners, however, disagreed. (See full story here.) (This leads to one question: if the officials continue to insist that they are taking prisoners’ organs with their consent and not for profit, will the new regulations help to stop this “unethical practice”?)

Bloggers have different reactions towards China’s ban on organ trade. One blogger said that he was surprised that China would really go to the step of banning organ trade under the international pressure...
This so reminds me of Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End", about which I ought to say more. A few notes, though they are probably obvious:
  1. I follow this subject, and I learned more from this blog post than from any other source in any mainstream media. There was nothing that contradicted my existing knowledge, so I have some confidence in the new knowledge.

  2. It's weird that they picked my post as one of two examples of the "blogger perspective".

  3. A connection has been established. I'm adding this Hong Kong journalism class blog to my regular feeds. What better source for an english language perspective on China?

  4. China has not enforced its laws very well, but that seems to be changing. The fine of "8-10x" the value of the traded organ strikes me as the work of someone who is serious about controlling this practice.

  5. If anything is going to save us from ourselves, it is the hivemind. Do your part.

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