China will begin phasing out a program that allowed the harvesting of organs from prisoners who were executed, a senior Chinese official told Reuters on Friday.
Former deputy health minister Huang Jiefu, who still heads the ministry's organ transplant office, said that in the future, organs would be only be taken from volunteers who submitted their request to be donors through the new national organ donation system, which is called the China Organ Transplant Committee.
"I am confident that before long all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs," Huang said.
There are currently 165 Chinese hospitals that perform transplants. Huang said the first batch of hospitals -- he didn't say how many -- will end the practice of using prisoners' organs following a meeting on the issue this November.
About 300,000 patients are wait-listed each year for an organ in China. Only one in 30 will receive a transplant.
Voluntary donations remain low because many Chinese people follow beliefs that oppose organ removal before burial. Huang said in 2010 there were only 63 cases of voluntary organ donation. This year, the country has averaged 130 donations per month, but it's still not nearly enough to meet demand.