This is second part of our new Friday Legal Memo Series – In Depth Look at the Law, where we’re focusing on an international horror that is not getting enough attention. In China, people are being executed inside mobile death vans, vehicles that drive from village to village. First, the victim is killed inside the van. Thereafter, his organs are taken from him almost immediately so they can be sold for a profit. All this, while grieving loved ones may well be just outside the vehicle. This is real. Take notice. Spread the word.

How does China officially respond when confronted with these horrors? China doesn’t deny the death vans exist. Instead, China claims that the death vans are more humane.

Executions in China are performed by either lethal injection or firing squad. [20] China approved the use of lethal injection in 1997. [21] Although the Chinese government is claiming that lethal injection is a more humane form of execution, there have been reports that the executioners have lowered the dosage amounts to cut costs, which results in a lingering, more agonizing and painful death. [22]

China Prefers Lethal Injection Over the Firing Squad – But Not Because it is a More Humane Manner of Death.

Despite these allegations, the Chinese media and government officials continue to tout that lethal injection is a civilized method for administering the death penalty. [23] The Chinese media often justify the use of lethal injection by citing the use of lethal injection in the United States. [24] The death van designer also claims that switching from gunshots to lethal injections show that China is now promoting human rights. [25]

Critics, however, state that the death vans allow China to carry out executions more quickly and easily. [26] Realistically, the government is not seeking a more enlightened vision of capital punishment but rather a more efficient way to execute a larger number of people. [27] In addition, the vans keep the executions out of the public eye.[28]

Death Vans Are a Profit Machine: They are Used for Organ Transplantation and Lethal Injection is Better for a Fast Harvest

It has been reported that the Chinese government uses mobile execution units to harvest organs from prisoners condemned to death. [29] Human rights activists and death penalty opponents fear that China is using lethal injection more frequently to harvest the organs of executed prisoners to supply China’s growing market for organ transplants. [30] Amnesty International is also concerned with China using lethal injection for the purposes of facilitating organ transplants from executed prisoners.[31]

These Silent, Mobile Death Vans are Viewed as Helping the Black Market Human Organ Market to Florish and Grow

The Executive Director of Human Rights in China states that the mobile execution vans help facilitate the black-market trade in organ sales because independent monitoring organizations, like the Red Cross, are denied access to prisons or labor camps. [32] With the secrecy already surrounding executions and organ harvesting in China, the death vans only aid in the business of black-market organ transplants. [33] Critics positively see a link between the silently rolling death vans and the organ trade.[34]

Amnesty International Reports on How Lethal Injection is Preferable in Human Organ Harvesting

According to Amnesty International, the chemicals used for lethal injection, which have neurological and neuromuscular effect, can be flushed through the kidneys without causing permanent damage. [35] The chief concern with damaging organs during execution is depriving the organs of oxygen or harming them physically through trauma. [36] Lethal injection allows the executioner to avoid both of these risks. [37] Although the drugs used for lethal injection in China is not publicly known, even the poisonous mix used in the United States would not damage the vital organs desired for transplants. [38]

With a shot of the anticoagulant, Heparin, beforehand, even a heart could be transplanted if removed quickly. [39] By leaving the body whole via lethal injection, organs can be extracted more quickly and effectively compared to execution by gunshot.[40]

Chinese Doctors Harvesting Human Organs With Grieving Family Members Just Outside the Van

Prior to the death vans, doctors had to hurriedly perform the organ extraction directly at the execution site before they were detected by the common people. [41] During one particular organ extraction inside an ambulance at the execution site, the doctors could hear people outside of the ambulance. [42] Because the doctors feared that those people might have been the prisoner’s family, they left the job half finished. [43] The corpse was then hastily thrown in a plastic bag and left on the flatbed of the crematorium truck. [44] As the ambulance drove away, the people outside pelted the vehicle with stones. [45] Therefore, the windowless death vans would provide a much safer venue for the doctors and police officers performing the executions and organ extractions.

[20] Executed, supra note 5, at 44.

[21]Id. at 48.

[22] Charleton, supra note 3, ¶ 5.

[23] Executed, supra note 5, at 48.

[24]Id. at 50.

[25] MacLeod, supra note 12, ¶ 4.

[26] Antoaneta Bezlova, Death Penalty-China: Rapid Death by Roaming, Inter Press Service News Agency (Italy), July 19, 2006, ¶ 2, (last visited July 29, 2008).

[27] Charleton, supra note 3, ¶ 6.

[28] Bezlova, supra note 26, ¶ 2.

[29] Joan E. Hemphill, Comment: China’s Practice of Procuring Organs from Executed Prisoners: Human Rights Groups Must Narrowly Taylor Their Criticism and Endorse the Chinese Constitution to End Abuses, 16 Pac. Rim L. & Pol’y 431, 440 (Mar. 2007).

[30] Bezlova, supra note 26, ¶ 16.

[31] People’s Republic of China the Olympics Countdown-Failing to Keep Human Rights Promises, Amnesty Int’l (ASA 17/046/2006), Sept. 2006, at 2 [hereinafter Failing], available at (last visited July 29, 2008).

[32] Bezlova, supra note 26, ¶¶ 20-21.

[33] Id. ¶¶ 20-22.

[34] Id. ¶ 16; MacLeod, supra note 12, ¶ 7.

[35] Carers, supra note 14, at 16.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Craig S. Smith, In Shift, Chinese Carry Out Executions by Lethal Injection, The N.Y. Times, Dec. 28, 2001, ¶ 11, available at (last visited July 28, 2008).

[39] Id.

[40]MacLeod, supra note 12, ¶ 8.

[41] See Organs, supra note 4, at 59 (statement of Wang Guoqi, former doctor, Chinese PLA Hospital).

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.
Next Friday: Who are the Falun Gong and How are they involved?