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Truth more terrifying than fiction in shocking doc

Human-rights activists reveal organ-harvest program in China

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/6/2015 (798 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Like most of TV's successful crime/procedural mysteries, Human Harvest employs a simple but effective strategy: follow the evidence.

But unlike prime time's well-known scripted dramas, this chilling film is not a work of fiction. It's a documentary, which only serves to make the well-researched story it tells more terrifying than any made-up tale could be.


Human Harvest, which recently won a prestigious Peabody Award for distinguished public service in media, is a shocking examination of atrocities within the Chinese medical system, where imprisoned practitioners of the Falun Gong religion are being used as live organ "donors" to support that country's massive and lucrative organ-transplant industry.

The film has its Canadian TV première on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on CBC's Documentary Channel. Written, produced and directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker Leon Lee, Human Harvest was inspired by the work of two Canadian human-rights crusaders -- Winnipeg lawyer David Matas and David Kilgour, a former MP and minister of state for Asia and the Pacific -- who were recruited by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China in 2006 to seek the truth about China's organ-transplant system.

Lee's film is effective in its step-by-step examination of the issue. In its opening scenes, several Taiwanese nationals discuss (with on-screen translation) their experiences in mainland China's medical system, which, beginning around 1999, was able to provide organ transplants on a virtually on-demand basis.

Their first-hand accounts raise serious questions about the availability of organs for transplant. It's at this point that Lee first begins to connect the dots: the Chinese government's persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, including arrest and detention of tens of thousands, began in 1999, right around the time China's organ-transplant industry began its rapid expansion.

The number of transplant centres in China rose from 150 in 1999 to more than 600 in early 2000; the number of transplant surgeries went from several hundred in 1999 to more than 10,000 annually by 2008.

"But they don't have a donation system," Matas says in the film. "Well, they started one in 2010, but for most of the time we were doing this (investigation), there was no donation system.

"The place where every other country in the world gets its organs is not available to them. Where are these organs coming from?"

The answers presented in Human Harvest come in the form of interviews that offer first-hand accounts from people who either worked in the Chinese medical system or survived imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese government. All of them describe an organ-transplant industry in which patients could receive -- for a very high price ($30,000 for a cornea, $60,000 for a kidney, $150,000 for a heart) -- a blood- and tissue-matched organ on not more than a few days' notice.

The film also includes audio recordings collected during Matas and Kilgour's investigation -- after being denied visas by the Chinese government, the pair enlisted the aid of Chinese-speaking investigators who, posing as prospective transplant patients, contacted a large number of hospitals to inquire about transplant programs.

Fifteen per cent of the centres contacted confirmed the availability of "fresh" organs harvested from Falun Gong prisoners.

"Everywhere else in the world, (the wait for a donor organ) would be months or years," says Matas. "Obviously, when you book a transplant in advance for a heart transplant, and you go to China and get a transplant within a few days, somebody is being killed for the organ. There's no other way to explain what's happening in that situation."

It's a horrifying story, told in a graphic, gruesome and convincing fashion. Human Harvest is hard to watch, but deserves to be seen. Twitter: @BradOswald

Read more by Brad Oswald.


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Updated on Monday, June 15, 2015 at 9:01 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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