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How China’s Operation Rooms Became Execution Grounds: Dr. Trey on the CCP’s Lucrative Organ Trade

Sixteen years ago, the first whistleblowers emerged from China with a story few could believe: the Chinese communist regime was killing Falun Gong practitioners for their organs. What have we learned since then? I sit down with Dr. Torsten Trey, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, which just released the special report “Forced Organ Harvesting From Living People in China.”

“Living people are killed for their organs … Executions were shifted from the courtroom to the operation room,” says Trey.

What evidence is there of forced organ harvesting in China? Is it still happening today? And if it is really happening at an industrial scale, why aren’t more people talking about it?

“China tries everything … to use bribery, to use other influence to stop newspapers from reporting about this issue,” Trey says. The regime also exerts pressure at the highest levels of medical organizations, he says.

“If you think about it, if the Chinese government is willing to kill people, not only a few, but on an industrial level … think of what mindset [that is]. And if they do this to their own people, what do you think the Chinese government [would] do to foreigners?” says Trey.

“We didn’t react to it in time, probably because we thought China is so far away. Why should we care? … And a few years later, you are hit by a pandemic that is spread from China.”


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Jan Jekielek:

Dr. Torsten Trey, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Dr. Torsten Trey:

Thank you for having me.

Mr. Jekielek:

Dr. Trey, this has been a long time coming. I remember back in 2006 when I first realized that this murder for organs industry in China was real and I started reporting on it. There was a small nonprofit that began in the same year called Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, and you were one of the co-founders. We’ve interacted in various ways over the years. Before we go any further, just lay it out for me: what is forced organ harvesting?

Dr. Trey:

Forced organ harvesting is a practice that in 2006, nobody actually would think it could happen. We created this name, and it was our NGO that came up with this term. It is the forceful extraction of organs used for transplantation. The typical way of giving consent before you donate an organ has been bypassed. People are actually killed. Living people are killed for their organs. It’s fair to say that it only happens in China, because on a large scale it can only occur when the state is promoting this crime and it has reached industrial levels. This is arguably the biggest violation of medical ethics in history.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s unbelievable when you frame it that way. Let’s go back a little bit. Why don’t you just tell me where this came from, where this idea to start this nonprofit came from, why it was needed, and why in 2006?

Dr. Trey:

In 2006, I learned from a newspaper, The Epoch Times, that witnesses from China came forward. They witnessed in a hospital in Sujiatun, organs or tissues were harvested from Falun Gong practitioners. That was so outrageous that it caught my attention. In just that month, March of 2006, there were actually three people coming forward. A reporter, the wife of a surgeon who took corneas from Falun Gong practitioners, and an anonymous veteran military doctor who added even more details.

It was beyond my imagination. I could hardly believe it, and I followed this case. Then, two months later I saw that the vice president of the European Parliament, Edward McMillan-Scott had followed that case too. He went to China. He met with two Falun Gong practitioners who told him that they saw a friend who died in detention who had holes in their body. That was another piece of evidence that came together.

Two months later, I heard about the report from David Kilgour and David Matas, who conducted phone interviews with hospitals in China, and they indeed recorded that doctors in the Chinese hospitals said they take organs from Falun Gong practitioners, because those are fresh organs. At that time this was very shocking, and I decided to go in July 2006 to attend the World Transplant Congress in Boston. I was thinking maybe I would find some more hints. There were, of course, doctors also from China, and I talked to two of them.

One of them was from the Tianjin Hospital. He said last year they performed 2000 liver transplantations, and that was an astronomical number. I asked other doctors from other countries. In Argentina, they performed 200 liver transplants per year. In Germany there were, I believe it was 700 transplants per year. And here we are just from one hospital in Tianjin, they performed 2000 liver transplants. That was adding another factor to the scope of transplantation that took place in China.

At last, I talked to a doctor who was invited back to China to open a transplant department. But at that time he was actually just working in a university in Germany and he only conducted transplants on animals. I was wondering how he was invited back to China to open a transplant department. He said there was just this demand to open transplant departments. And I said, “Where do all those organs come from?” Because transplantation depends on organs from donors. And he said, “Those organs are coming from Falun Gong practitioners.”

That took place within half-a-year, all these aspects, hints, and pieces of evidence. What was really striking was none of these witnesses were Falun Gong practitioners, and they were all hinting that organs were harvested from Falun Gong practitioners. So, if you want some objectivity, here you have it. At that point I decided there must be more investigation and yes, awareness. I decided that just my voice would not be big enough. If I really wanted attention, I would need to start an NGO. That’s how the idea of founding Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting came about.

Mr. Jekielek:

It might be amazing to people that are listening that a doctor from China admitted to you that these organs were coming from Falun Gong practitioners. To put this in context, this was a group that had been demonized and targeted for eradication, in the words of Jiang Zemin, who had been the dictator at the time and issued the order. Is it possible for someone to say something like that with a straight face and just not realize how utterly barbaric it might sound? How did you react to that?

Dr. Trey:

It’s definitely barbaric. It is unfathomable. And I would think that because of this practice being beyond our imagination, that was the best way to hide the practice. When I was discussing this topic with other doctors at medical conferences, they were listening and they were also seeing what data we produce and show, but at the end they still said they can hardly believe this is happening. Because it is beyond what we in the West would think is possible. It’s just beyond our thinking.

Mr. Jekielek:

Why don’t you give me a broad picture of the lines of evidence that exist? It has developed substantially since 2006, the documented reality of this.

Dr. Trey:

On this question of evidence, “What evidence do you have?” This question comes up very often. Here’s a short summary. There’s evidence related to the transplant numbers, evidence related to the organ sources, where the organs come from, how they’re donated, and then witnesses coming forth. Over the time we followed the number of transplants, and the transplant numbers in China are just out of proportion.

If you follow the course of annual transplant numbers and compare them with other countries, then you see China, it’s almost like a rollercoaster. It goes up, it goes down, it stays on the level for 10 years, then it goes up again. You do not find this type of development in other countries that are based on ethical organ donation. In other countries you find a steady gradual increase of organ donors and then also transplants. But in China, this seems to be decoupled.

Just recently in 2020, you see this example that Dr. Chen Jingyu wanted to perform a double lung transplant on a Covid patient, and then within just one day they said they got the matching lung and performed the transplant. This is unthinkable in the Western transplant environment. It seems like organs are coming on demand to facilitate transplants on demand. The wait time in China is usually just considered to be between two days and 14 days. It’s very typical.

There was a camera team from South Korea that went with a hidden camera to one of these hospitals and they filmed a nurse who was accommodating patients from Korea. The nurse was saying, “Yes, it usually takes two weeks to get a kidney, but if you pay $10,000 extra, you can get it within two days”. This is unheard of, that just because of extra money and an extra fee, you can accelerate the wait time and accelerate it to two days.

Nothing in terms of transplantation numbers is reflecting anything that you see in all the other countries in the world. This is one part; the transplant numbers and the wait times. But then there are also the donor numbers. We monitored a website where the numbers of organ donations were displayed, and we monitored this for over 18 months.

What we saw is that there was a gradual, very slow increase of registered organ donors, and then all of a sudden, at the end of 2015, within one day it increased by 25,000, exactly 25,000, which is unheard of. It seems to be like an artificial number where it’s said “Oh, we just add exactly 25,000, ending with three zeros. Yes, these are registered organ donors and real people.” Just the fact that all of a sudden there are exactly thousands of registered donors is unheard of.

We saw this again in the following year when 88,000 people were added to the so-called registered organ donor pool. All of this you don’t find in other countries. With other research you saw that these numbers are more manufactured. There were no real organ donors, but the numbers were following a mathematical equation.

Mr. Jekielek:

Yes, a quadratic equation. I remember reading that paper. Like a perfect quadratic equation.

Dr. Trey:

Yes. Then, with this discrepancy between these large tons of numbers and the lack of organ donors, then the question is where do those organs come from? I talked with Falun Gong practitioners who said they were detained for two years and they were blood tested 10 times. David Matas interviewed a prisoner who was not a Falun Gong practitioner, and he said he was not blood tested, but he saw that Falun Gong practitioners were blood tested. If you hear one witness talking, one Falun Gong practitioner saying he was subject to forced medical exams while in detention while being subject to torture, which itself is already implausible.

If there is one Falun Gong practitioner saying he was medically examined, you can say it’s an anecdote. But there are hundreds and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners over 20 years who keep repeating this and similar experiences, and who say, “I was threatened and the policeman said that if I don’t follow this, they will take my organs”. If you hear this many witness reports, then the anecdote is not an anecdote anymore. It becomes evidence.

If you take all of this together, then you have an overwhelming set of circumstantial evidence. Each piece itself might not be that strong, but if you put everything together, then you can say there’s enough evidence to say something is wrong here.

Mr. Jekielek:

Obviously, the Chinese communist regime has been accused of these practices multiple times . How have they responded?

Dr. Trey:

In one case with Sujiatun, they didn’t respond at all when the claim was made. They were silent for five weeks and then all of a sudden they say, “Oh, now a delegation is being invited”. And of course a delegation after five weeks did not find anything. This is typical. If you have scheduled inspections, you will not find anything for sure.

What China is not doing is it is not allowing unscheduled investigational inspections. It is basically denying that this is happening. If you want, you can compare it with the 1989 student massacre in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government says it didn’t happen, although there’s footage, but it didn’t happen. And the same with the forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience, it’s also denied that this is happening.

Mr. Jekielek:

Why is it the Falun Gong that were particularly targeted?

Dr. Trey:

For once, it is a large group that is detained. All of a sudden you have access to a very large pool of organ donors, not organ donors, but sources, organ sources. That’s one aspect. But you can also argue that other groups, other prisoners of conscience could also be targeted. Those are not typically targeted. It is mainly Falun Gong. If you want to look into the reason, then you have to look at 1999 when the persecution of Falun Gong started and overnight the Chinese government basically declared Falun Gong as a state enemy.

But it was not the fault of Falun Gong, because nothing had changed in their practice. It was just their practice of being truthful that imposed a perceived threat to the Chinese government. At that point, overnight, the head of state, Jiang Zemin, single-handedly said, “This group is now banned and basically has no rights”.

The experience with the student massacre showed the Chinese government that it cannot just crack down on a group with high intensity, because then the international community will respond to it. So, they had to come up with a different approach. They wanted to destroy this group, Falun Gong, but in a way that it is not raising international attention. So basically, over time, the executions were shifted from the courtroom to the operation room.

Organ harvesting turned the previous persecution form of torturing or torturing to death into a profitable business. The organs from Falun Gong practitioners could be sold for transplants. So, there was a financial aspect that was used by the Chinese government. They want to eradicate this group, they want to destroy it, and what better way could they be than using Falun Gong practitioners as an organ source?

Mr. Jekielek:

I was talking with Ethan Gutmann perhaps half-a-year ago. He’s one of the researchers who did a lot of really valuable work in developing the set of evidence. In past years the Chinese regime ramped up the genocide of the Uyghur people, and he’s saying that this has become a significant group in recent years. It struck me that if you don’t deal with something for years, and it doesn’t stop, it will get transferred to another group that’s targeted for eradication.

Dr. Trey:

Yes, this is a very typical phenomenon. If you violate ethical standards and you get away with it, then you get the appetite to go to the next level, and to go to the next profitable area. For example, for the Uyghur group, because they are Muslims, they don’t eat certain food, so you find people from the Middle East who are specifically looking for Muslim organ donors to get the type of organs that they prefer. The Chinese follow this market to open the Uyghur people to serve this group of transplanters who are looking for specific organs.

But we cannot forget that this is, relative speaking, a smaller group, whereas the Falun Gong practitioners were estimated to have 100 million people in 1999. So, it’s an extremely large group, and because it is persecuted in the whole country, you have a pool of organ donors that can still serve the transplant hospitals in the different regions. We cannot shift our attention to just one group, while the other group that has been subject to forced organ harvesting for 20 years is being sidelined. This is a very dangerous move.

Mr. Jekielek:

Do you feel that’s happening somehow?

Dr. Trey:

The World Medical Association came up with the statement resolution where it acknowledges the genocide of Uyghur people. However, so far, Falun Gong, who has been subject to this destruction over 20 years, has not been recognized as a victim to genocide. We follow this very closely, and we think there’s an imbalance.

Mr. Jekielek:

One of the things I wrote about years ago was the inability of people to just accept that human beings do such terrible things. I was citing Jan Karski, who broke into concentration camps in [Nazi-occupied] Poland. He was a Polish nobleman, masqueraded as a Ukrainian guard, saw what was happening, got out, went to England, went to the West and to the U.S., and tried to tell people, but people wouldn’t listen.

Even the Attorney General of the U.S. said, famously, “It’s not that I thought he was lying, it was that I was unable to believe him”. That was, I believe, the official line or something close to that. How much does this figure into the current state where essentially the Chinese Communist Party has been largely held unaccountable to this in almost any way? With a few exceptions.

Dr. Trey:

I believe that there are several factors that come into play. One is that the crime is just too unbelievable, it’s beyond what we can fathom. But at the same time, it is probably also an effect of the effort of the Chinese government to cover it up. You can imagine forced organ harvesting, the killing of people for the organs. This is a serious crime. It’s probably the most outrageous violation of human rights that one can imagine. Not only are you killing people, but you are also using their organs to make a profit.

You can imagine that if this would surface, if this would be reported in the mainstream media, China would have a hard time stopping an international outcry. Of course, China tries everything to stop this issue, to use bribery, and to use other influence to stop newspapers from reporting about this issue. Specifically, on this topic of forced organ harvesting, we have an issue of self-censorship in Western media and we need to look at, because the crime is just too big to be censored.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s striking to me that the Transplantation Society, which is the premier global organization focused on organ transplantation, has either not taken a position, or essentially taken a position that mirrors that of the Chinese Communist Party. One; how much has that hurt your advocacy efforts? And two; what’s going on with that?

Dr. Trey:

Yes, this is a discrepancy that I’ve followed for some time. On one side, the Transplantation Society says they are a professional society and they don’t have the resources to investigate in China. On the other side, the Transportation Society also makes statements that China’s on the right way. So, on one side you say that you cannot investigate this topic, and on the other side, you produce statements that China is developing in the right way. There are several reports and investigations that are hundreds of pages long, but I don’t know if the Transportation Society or the leadership in the Transplantation Society has really studied those reports and looked into it.

Mr. Jekielek:

The China Tribunal comes to mind, which is one of the most comprehensive bodies of evidence. I believe you testified there. Briefly, tell me what that was. What were the conclusions? And yes, why is the Transplantation Society unaware of the findings?

Dr. Trey:

The China Tribunal took about a year to review all the different reports. They listened to 50 experts in two hearings. It was a very objective, independent, and thorough review of the evidence. And they came up with the conclusion that forced organ harvesting takes place in China and that the main victim group are Falun Gong practitioners. There was a very clear conclusion.

It is striking to me that other medical organizations have not taken this into consideration and said, “Well, maybe we need to look into this.” Because again, this is one of the biggest violations of medical ethics and of medical practice in history. You cannot just go back to business as usual and continue scientific exchange, and exchange with personnel and doctors in China. There should be a pause to review the evidence.

Mr. Jekielek:

One thing that strikes me, I always remember back to where Dr. Jacob Lavee, who at the time was the head of the Israeli Transplant Association. He had a patient that told him, “I’m going to China to get an organ”. He went, he got it quickly, and Lavee recognized there was no way this could be ethical.

He actually advocated very quickly for laws to be passed in Israel where the state health system wouldn’t pay for such transplants, basically discouraging people from doing it. Maybe you can tell me, has there been a significant response from any country other than Israel?

Dr. Trey:

There has been some acknowledgement and response. The U.S. Congress has passed several resolutions on this topic, acknowledging the forced organ harvesting, the European Parliament did as well. But those are more non-binding steps, which are more like statements and acknowledgement, but without really taking responsibility to stop this transplant abuse. They are not strong enough to send a signal to China that says, “We are serious on this topic.”

“Stop it. We know it is happening. This doesn’t fit into the international community”. We observed over time that this is not only happening in governments, but also in organizations where the information that we provide on this topic is blocked at a certain level. I would think that it occurs at the leadership level. The members of an organization are much more open to the information and willing to take steps.

For example, we once approached the American Medical Association. We were working together with the Medical Society of Washington DC, and we submitted a resolution. The leadership of the American Medical Association was more hesitant. But then at one point, the House of Delegates, which is more on the level of the members, was bringing up this question and said, “We want clarity”. Those are the doctors that really want to know what is going on. They were members on the floor who were really looking into answers.

They wanted answers. That’s a very typical phenomenon. The block is happening at the leadership level, and I assume that this is also a reflection of the pressure and the influence that comes from the Chinese government. It can happen very quickly where the Chinese government says, “Do you want to come to our country for certain conferences? Then don’t bring it up. Do you want to be ostracized from our conferences? Then don’t bring it up”. This can happen very quickly.

Mr. Jekielek:

I’m going to deviate a bit here, but I can’t help but think this mirrors some of this catastrophic response that the world had to Covid. It’s almost like what you’re describing. It kind of set the stage for what we saw happen at a much larger scale, affecting a much larger group of people, essentially almost all of humanity to some extent. It’s a chilling thought. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this at all.

Dr. Trey:

Yes. It is interesting if you have somebody who’s violating ethical standards, just basic standards, and you don’t react to it. If you think about it, the Chinese government is willing to kill people, not only a few, but hundreds of thousands on an industrial level—most likely more than a million people over the past 20 years. What kind of mindset is that?

If they do this to their own people, what do you think the Chinese government does to foreigners? This is the situation, and we didn’t react to it in time, probably because we thought, “China is so far away, why should we care?” Then, a few years later, you are hit by a pandemic that spreads from China.

Mr. Jekielek:

I can’t help thinking about this, that basically we as a society turned a blind eye for decades to what you describe as the grossest violation of medical ethics in history. Over the last few years, we found ourselves in a situation where there were rampant medical ethics violations. I can’t help but wonder if turning a blind eye didn’t somehow influence this current situation where trust in the medical system has been lost for such a huge number of people.

Dr. Trey:

That’s an interesting aspect. By being a bystander, and allowing China to commit this forced organ harvesting, some of our due diligence in ethics in the West has deteriorated, and that is the danger. But I would actually say that is also the intention from the Chinese government to influence the Western society by making forced organ harvesting a staple in the transplant field. We are risking that our ethical standards are decaying. All of a sudden we are now facing the situation with the pandemic that really caught us by surprise, where decades and centuries of scientific work has been cast out.

For example, if you have a vaccine, the typical form is that you have to test a vaccine for 10 years to make sure that there are no side effects. This fact has not been appreciated. I wonder if you give a vaccine that you tested half-a-year, how can you say with certainty that if you give it to children that it doesn’t have effects in 10, 20 years, maybe causing cancer and other problems? We don’t know. There’s a decay in our due diligence in enforcing scientific pr