China says that on Jan. 1, in response to human rights concerns, it will cease transplanting organs taken from executed prisoners, although uncertainties linger over where a replacement supply will come from, state media reported today. China had previously said it would phase out the practice by sometime in early 2015. But state media reports announced the first firm date for ending the practice, citing the architect of China's transplant system, Huang Jiefu.
International human rights activists and domestic critics have long said that standard safeguards were ignored when obtaining organs from prisoners who may have been pressured to donate. However, China has one of the world's lowest levels of organ donation because of ingrained cultural attitudes and a legal requirement that family members give consent before organs are donated, even if a person had expressed a desire to donate. China executes thousands of people a year, more than the rest of the world put together—but it recently phased out the death penalty for crimes such as pimping and counterfeiting. (Read more China stories.)