China has said it will stop relying on executed prisoners as the source of transplanting organs, in response to human rights concerns, although uncertainties linger over where a replacement supply will come from, state media reported.
China has previously said it would phase out the practice by sometime in early 2015, but state media on Thursday reported January 1 as the first firm date to end the practice, citing the architect of China's transplant system, Huang Jiefu.
International human rights activists and domestic critics have long said that standard safeguards were ignored when obtaining organs from prisoners who may have been pressured to donate.
However, China has one of the world's lowest levels of organ donation because of ingrained cultural attitudes and a legal requirement that family members give consent before organs are donated, even if a person had expressed a desire to donate.
Citing Huang's statement to a seminar on Wednesday, the Southern Metropolitan Daily newspaper said China had a donation rate of 0.6 per 1 million citizens, compared to 37 per 1 million citizens in Spain.
"It can't be denied that at present, apart from the traditional thinking that keeps enthusiasm for organ donation low, people also have concerns as to whether organ donation can be fair, just and transparent," Huang was quoted as saying.
Huang is a former deputy health minister who now heads the national organ procurement network. Calls to his private numbers, the network and the Chinese organ donation center rang unanswered on Thursday.