[Deathpenalty]death penalty news------worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Sep 13 16:51:32 CDT 2005
The beauty products from the skin of executed Chinese prisoners --
Cosmetics firm targets UK market; Lack of regulation puts users at risk
A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of
executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an
investigation by the Guardian has discovered.
Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen
for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they
have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been
exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is
"traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about".
With European regulations to control cosmetic treatments such as collagen
not expected for several years, doctors and politicians say the discovery
highlights the dangers faced by the increasing number of Britons seeking
to improve their looks. Apart from the ethical concerns, there is also the
potential risk of infection.
MPs on the Commons select health committee are to examine the regulatory
system and may launch an investigation and question ministers about the
need for immediate new controls. "I am sure that the committee will want
to look at this," said Kevin Barron, its Labour chairman. "This is
something everyone in society will be very concerned about."
Plastic surgeons are also concerned about the delay in introducing
regulations to control the cosmetic treatments industry. Norman
Waterhouse, a former president of the British Association of Aesthetic
Plastic Surgeons, said: "I am surprised that we are taking the lead from
the European commission, because this is bound to delay action on this
important area which is increasingly a matter for concern. It seems like a
bit of a cop out to me."
It is unclear whether any of the "aesthetic fillers" such as collagen
available in the UK or on the internet are supplied by the company, which
cannot be identified for legal reasons. It is also unclear whether
collagen made from prisoners' skin is in the research stage or is in
production. However, the Guardian has learned that the company has
exported collagen products to the UK in the past. An agent told customers
it had also exported to the US and European countries, and that it was
trying to develop fillers using tissue from aborted foetuses.
When formally approached by the Guardian, the agent denied the company was
using skin harvested from executed prisoners. However, he had already
admitted it was doing precisely this during a number of conversations with
a researcher posing as a Hong Kong businessman. The Press Complaints
Commission's code of practice permits subterfuge if there is no other
means of investigating a matter of public interest.
The agent told the researcher: "A lot of the research is still carried out
in the traditional manner using skin from the executed prisoner and
aborted foetus." This material, he said, was being bought from "bio tech"
companies based in the northern province of Heilongjiang, and was being
developed elsewhere in China.
He suggested that the use of skin and other tissues harvested from
executed prisoners was not uncommon. "In China it is considered very
normal and I was very shocked that western countries can make such a big
fuss about this," he said. Speaking from his office in northern China, he
added: "The government has put some pressure on all the medical facilities
to keep this type of work in low profile."
The agent said his company exported to the west via Hong Kong."We are
still in the early days of selling these products, and clients from abroad
are quite surprised that China can manufacture the same human collagen for
less than 5% of what it costs in the west." Skin from prisoners used to be
even less expensive, he said. "Nowadays there is a certain fee that has to
be paid to the court."
The agent's admission comes after an inquiry into the cosmetic surgery
industry in Britain, commissioned by the Department of Health, pointed to
the need for new regulations controlling collagen treatments. Sir Liam
Donaldson, the chief medical officer, has highlighted the inquiry's
concerns about the use of cadavers for cosmetic treatments. "Cosmetic
procedures are a rapidly growing area of private health care," he said.
"We must ensure we properly protect patients' safety by improving the
training and regulation."
The DoH has agreed to the inquiry's recommendations, but is waiting for
the European commission to draw up proposals for laws governing cosmetic
products. It could be several years before this legislation takes force.
Meanwhile, cosmetic treatments, including those with with aesthetic
fillers, are growing rapidly in popularity, with around 150,000 injections
or implants administered each year in the UK. Lip enhancement treatments
are one of the most popular, costing an average of 170.
Some fillers are made from cattle or pig tissue, and others from humans.
The DoH believes that there may be a risk of transmission of blood-borne
viruses and even vCJD from collagen containing human tissue. Although
there is as yet no evidence that this has happened, the inquiry found that
some collagen injections had triggered inflammatory reactions causing
permanent discomfort, scarring and disfigurement. In their report, the
inquiry team said that if there was a risk, "action should be taken to
protect patient safety through regulation".
While new regulations are to be drawn up, the department is currently
powerless to regulate most human-tissue fillers intended for injection or
implant, as they occupy a legal grey area. Most products are not governed
by regulations controlling medical products, as they are not classified as
medicines. They also escape cosmetics regulations, which only apply to
substances used on the surface of the skin and not those injected beneath
it. The Healthcare Commission is planning new regulations for cosmetic
surgery clinics next year, but these will not control the substances used
by plastic surgeons.
A number of plastic surgeons have told the Guardian that they have been
hearing rumours about the use of tissue harvested from executed prisoners
for several years.
Peter Butler, a consultant plastic surgeon and government adviser, said
there had been rumours that Chinese surgeons had performed hand
transplants using hands from executed prisoners. One transplant centre was
believed to be adjacent to an execution ground. "I can see the utility of
it, as they have access and no ethical objection," he said. "The main
concern would be infective risk."
Andrew Lee of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who has
visited China to examine transplant techniques, said he had heard similar
Manufacturers of aesthetic fillers said they had seen Chinese collagen
products on sale at trade fairs, but had not seen any labelled
Chinese-made in the UK. Dan Cohen, whose US-based company, Inamed,
produces collagen products, said: "We have come across Chinese products in
the market place. But most products from China are being sold 'off-label'
or are being imported illegally."
In China, authorities deny that prisoners' body parts are harvested
without their consent. However, there is some evidence to suggest it may
In June 2001, Wang Guoqi, a Chinese former military physician, told US
congressmen he had worked at execution grounds helping surgeons to harvest
the organs of more than 100 executed prisoners, without prior consent. The
surgeons used converted vans parked near the execution grounds to begin
dissecting the bodies, he told the house international relations
committee's human rights panel.
Skin was said to be highly valued for the treatment of burn victims, and
Dr Wang said that in 1995 he skinned a shot convict's body while the man's
heart was still beating. Dr Wang, who was seeking asylum in the US, also
alleged that corneas and other body tissue were removed for transplant,
and said his hospital, the Tianjin paramilitary police general brigade
hospital, sold body parts for profit.
Human rights activists in China have repeatedly claimed that organs have
been harvested from the corpses of executed prisoners and sold to surgeons
offering transplants to fee-paying foreigners.
Dr Wang's allegations infuriated the Chinese authorities, and in a rare
move officials publicly denounced him as a liar. The government said
organs were transplanted from executed prisoners only if they and their
family gave consent.
Although the exact number of people facing the death penalty in China is
an official secret, Amnesty International believes around 3,400 were
executed last year, with a further 6,000 on death row.
What is it?
Collagen is a major structural protein found in abundance in skin, bones,
tendons and other connective tissue. Matted sheets of collagen give skin
its toughness and by winding into molecular "cables", it adds strength to
What is it used for?
Collagen injections are used in cosmetic surgery to plump up lips and
flatten out wrinkles. After botox, collagen injections are the second-most
popular cosmetic operations in Britain. Collagen does not have a permanent
effect and several injections are often needed.
What else is it good for?
Collagen was being put to good use as far back as the stone age. Neolithic
cave dwellers around the Dead Sea are believed to have used it as a
primitive form of glue some 8,000 years ago. More recently, researchers
have developed a form that can be poured or injected into wounds to seal
Where does it come from?
A number of sources. Some companies extract it from cow skin and treat it
to minimise the risk of allergic reactions or infection. Others collect it
from human donors or extract cells from the patient before growing the
necessary amount in a laboratory.
Is it safe?
Collagen can cause allergic reactions if it has not been treated
correctly, and there is a theoretical risk of disease being passed on. A
small amount of collagen is often injected into the skin a few weeks
before treatment to test for possible allergic reactions. Earlier this
year, Sir Liam Donaldson warned that collagen injections could spread
conditions such as hepatitis and variant CJD, the human form of mad cow
(source: The Guardian (UK)
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