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German Dialysis Co. Ends China Link

March 7, 1998

BERLIN (AP) _ Worried it might be unwittingly helping Chinese officials sell organs from executed prisoners, a German company said Saturday it had ended a partnership with a kidney dialysis center in China.

Fresenius Medical Care decided to get out after its own investigation, begun last fall, ``could no longer rule out″ that organ sales were going on at a military hospital complex next to the dialysis center in the southern city of Guangzhou, spokesman Oliver Heieck said.

``That’s enough for us,″ Heieck said. ``We want nothing to do with such a practice.″

He stressed that Fresenius, the world market leader in kidney dialysis technology, was not involved in transplants at the military hospital and had none of its own personnel at the dialysis center. The company, which began the joint venture in 1996, supplied filters and other materials for the center’s 40 machines, he said.

The German magazine Stern reported last week that a Thai kidney specialist said the military hospital would have to have a dialysis center nearby for patients to use while waiting for surgery.

``There would be no kidney transplants in Nanfang hospital without Fresenius,″ Dr. Damras Rojanasthien was quoted as saying in Stern. He told the magazine he learned about China’s organ industry through patients at his private clinic in Bangkok.

Human rights activists have long accused China of making money off its prolific use of the death penalty.

Stern described a ``patient tourism″ industry in which patients from across Asia and the United States are notified when executions are about to take place so that they can travel to China in time to receive a transplant. Total cost for a new kidney, it said, is about $40,000.

Dr. Phaibul Jitpraphai from Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok told Stern he recently made an inspection trip to China.

``First I believed that the prisoners voluntarily agreed to donate their organs,″ the magazine quoted him as saying. ``But then we found out that no consent forms from the prisoners existed. ... They were simply shot in the head and then disemboweled.″

Heieck said Fresenius started its investigation in October after questions were raised by a report on ABC-TV.

Fresenius, based in the Frankfurt suburb of Oberursel, said about 130 Chinese patients were treated at the center annually. But he said they also found a number of foreign patients coming into the center for brief periods, apparently awaiting transplant operations. He refused to say how many.

The company had no access to hospital records and so had no concrete proof of organs being sold, he said. But enough circumstantial evidence was gathered so that the company formally decided Thursday to cancel its partnership, effective immediately.