A shiny new fleet of execution vans is sweeping across China. Executioners on Wheels is a one-stop solution for carrying out the icky, messy chore of capital punishment. The spacious, high-tech, fully loaded vans make executing prisoners a snap. The friendly drivers not only kill the prisoner with a lethal injection, they also slice out his organs on the spot for quick and efficient harvesting, before the posion from the injection can sink in (or at least we sure hope so). Executions have never been easier!
China’s critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners’ organs.
Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can “be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot,” says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.”
Executions in death vans are recorded on video and audio that is played live to local law enforcement authorities â€” a measure intended to ensure they are carried out legally.
China’s refusal to give outsiders access to the bodies of executed prisoners has added to suspicions about what happens afterward: Corpses are typically driven to a crematorium and burned before relatives or independent witnesses can view them.
Chinese authorities are sensitive to allegations that they are complicit in the organ trade. In March, the Ministry of Health issued regulations explicitly banning the sale of organs and tightening approval standards for transplants.
Even so, Amnesty International said in a report in April that huge profits from the sale of prisoners’ organs might be part of why China refuses to consider doing away with the death penalty.
“Given the high commercial value of organs, it is doubtful the new regulations will have an effect,” Allison says.
Why does Amnesty International always have to be so glum, so cynical? These spiffy vans are emblematic of China’s great and unstoppable rise to superpower status. We should celebrate them, not criticize them. Keep your eye open for the execution van as it visits your neighborhood, and blow the driver a kiss. He represents the new China – modern, efficient, and economical. All hail progress.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.