China announces end date for taking prisoners' organs
A senior Chinese official has said the country will phase out the practice of taking organs from executed prisoners from November.
Huang Jiefu said China would now rely on using organs from voluntary donors under a new national donation system.
Prisoners used to account for two-thirds of transplant organs, based on previous estimates from state media.
For years, China denied that it used organs from executed prisoners, but admitted it a few years ago.
Official figures from China's newly formed health and planning commission show that, on an annual basis, there are on average 300,000 patients who need organ transplants, but only 10,000 of them are able to get them, state media said.
In just a few years, China has moved from denying to admitting and now phasing out the macabre practise of harvesting organs from executed prisoners.
In the first few years of the century, officials were still refusing to confirm reports that they used organs taken from convicted criminals for transplant operations.
But in 2006, an undercover BBC team revealed that prisoners' organs were being sold to wealthy foreign patients. China then began admitting it was, after all, using the organs. It still is. According to figures supplied to Reuters news agency, more than half of transplants carried out this year used organs from executed prisoners.
The argument put forward by the authorities has been that these convicts were giving something back to society, although it is not clear how many prisoners gave their consent freely. China now seems to have bowed to global pressure to stop a practise many saw as unacceptable.
Mr Huang, who is in charge of organ transplants and one of the country's leading surgeons, said the health ministry would start using organs from voluntary citizen donors in November.
More than 150 Chinese hospitals are expected to to confirm their participation, he added.
"I am confident that before long, all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs," he told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
He also told the state-run Global Times that it was time for China to establish a "suitable organ donation system".
Human rights groups estimate that China executes thousands of prisoners a year, but correspondents say that the official figures remain a state secret.
In March last year, Mr Huang announced China's pledge to end the practice of taking organs from executed prisoners within the next five years.
At the time, he said that organ donations from prisoners were not ideal because infections are usually high, affecting the long-term survival rates of those who undergo the transplants.