China plans to implement a new national donation system which will allow the government to phase out next year the practice of removing organs from executed prisoners to be used in transplant operations.
China's health ministry said yesterday that a new national organ donation system is being developed after officials said using organs from death-row prisoners was neither ethical nor sustainable.
"Now there is consensus among China's transplant community that the new system will relinquish the reliance on organs from executed convicts," Wang Haibo told the World Health Organisation's journal Bulletin.
"The implementation of the new national system will start early next year at the latest. This will also mark the start of phasing out the old practice."
Wang was appointed last year by China's health ministry to design a system to fairly and efficiently allocate organs to people who need them.
The new system has been run for two years by the Red Cross Society of China across 16 regions of the country.
Organ transplantation in China has long been criticised as opaque, profit-driven and unethical. Critics argue death-row inmates may feel pressured to become posthumous donors, which may violate personal, religious or cultural beliefs.
Beijing banned the trade in human organs in 2007, but demand for transplants still far exceeds supply in the country of 1.3 billion people.
An estimated 1.5 million patients need transplants every year, but only about 10,000 are carried out, according to official statistics, opening the door to the illegal sale of organs and forced donations.
Organ donations are not widespread in China, where many people believe they will be reincarnated after death and therefore feel the need to keep a complete body.
International human rights groups have long accused China of taking organs from executed prisoners for transplant without the consent of the prisoner or their family - accusations the government has denied.
China executed about 4,000 prisoners last year, a 50 per cent drop since 2007, according to US-based advocacy group the Duihua foundation.