China exports skin from death row?




LONDON: Exactly one week after Europe's political and corporate heavyweights schmoozed with 'the inscrutable Chinaman', as part of the EU-China summit, Western capitals and human rights campaigners have recoiled with horror at news reports alleging a Chinese cosmetics company is harvesting skin from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in the UK and Europe.

Agents for the Chinese company, reportedly based in northern China, have been boasting to an undercover British journalist that skin taken from hundreds of executed Chinese prisoners was used to develop collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments.

The ghoulish revelation, quickly dubbed "cannibal cosmecuticles" by appalled human rights activists has stunned Western medics.

The anti-ageing treatments, which allegedly cannibalise the skin of thousands of benighted Chinese, feed a multi-million-pound British and European obsession to be magically unlined and unchanged by the passage of time.

American consumers have also received Chinese collagen beauty products.

Injections of collagen, a major structural protein found in skin, bone and tendons, are used in cosmetic surgery to plump up lips to highlight pouting beauty and to iron out wrinkles.

Collagen injections are the UK's second-most popular cosmetic operation with nearly 150,000 being administered each year.

Human rights campaigners told TOI on Tuesday the newest revelation merely recalled an earlier abomination, when Amnesty International told a US Senate hearing in May 1995 that nearly 90 per cent of transplanted kidneys in China come from executed prisoners.

The skin harvests appear to be part and parcel of received practice in China, they said.

A leading European anti-death penalty campaigning group added that at least 5,000 of the roughly 5,500 known executions worldwide in 2004 took place in China.

Campaigners said "the ghoulish, cringe-making practice of harvesting the skin of death-row victims appears to be of a piece with China's disregard for human rights – and the West's determination to disregard it" just because it Beijing was good for business.

British and American plastic surgeons said on Tuesday that skin harvested from Chinese convicts could have a profound "infective risk".

The undercover investigation, claimed as a news triumph by a newly-relaunched The Guardian newspaper, has sparked revulsion across Britain and Europe.

The claims that the Chinese see the practice as "traditional" and that they believe there to be nothing unethical about harvesting the skin of condemned convicts has caused further revulsion.

Doctors said that if true, the Chinese collagen industry appeared to be making hay while the sun shines, namely the ongoing regulation-free period when the European Union is still formulating the rules to control and govern cosmetic treatments such as collagen injections and implants.

European regulations are not expected for several years.

According to most-recent statistics, gathered just over a decade ago, 77 per cent of all executions that took place in the world occurred in China.

The country routinely executes some 62 people a day.

The Chinese company is believed to be selling Western countries the age-defying beauty products at five per cent less than available anywhere in Britain, Europe or America.

The products, which are marketed and exported to the West from Hong Kong, are produced by the company after the basic material – skin and other tissues – are received from disparate, so-called bio-tech companies based in Heilongjiang in northern China.

The unnamed agent added, in a nod to earlier, gruesome reports of a brisk Chinese trade in executed prisoners' organs, that "The government (in Beijing) has put pressure on all the medical facilities to keep this type of work in low profile".

The revelation comes seven years after Chinese political dissident, Harry Wu, told the world from his American refuge that a massive, unethical and hugely lucrative worldwide trade in human body parts was run from China with the knowledge of the government.

Mr Wu's allegation came after two Chinese men were arrested in New York for allegedly trying to sell human kidneys, corneas and lungs that had been taken from executed Chinese prisoners.