A coda to THE ORGAN DONOR

September 13, 2010

He’s still alive.  He doesn’t have to go back to China.

Let me explain.

***

Readers of my first novel, The Organ Donor, might remember the protagonist of the first chapter, Dr. Li Jun of the Jianshi Paramilitary Police General Brigade Hospital.  He was a doctor with a conscience, sick of the role he played in the extraction of organs from executed Chinese prisoners for sale to his patients.  Dr. Li defected to the United States and testified, in exposé fashion, to the U.S. Congress concerning the PRC’s trade in human organs.

My character was based on a real man, Dr. Wang Guoqi, who in 2001 defected to the United States to do exactly what Dr. Li did.  Unlike Dr. Li, however, Dr. Wang was soon in danger of being deported back to China. The United States doesn’t give political asylum to those it considers criminals.  Still, any fool could see that Wang had extenuating circumstances, first and foremost that he defected to get away from the very place compelling him to participate in these crimes to begin with.  Besides which, didn’t he do Congress a favor by testifying?  And didn’t the Immigration and Naturalization Service realize that if Dr. Wang were sent back, he would assuredly be executed (and his organs sold) for embarrassing China to the world media?

Soon after my book was published, I met Harry Wu, the director of the non-profit Laogai Research Foundation in Washington, DC.  Wu was Dr. Wang’s representative when he testified before Congress, and Wu told me about the doctor’s predicament.  At the time, I was working for a large DC law firm, so I introduced Dr. Wang to a pro bono attorney who took up his case with immigration.  My firm invited me to write about my experiences for a newsletter, which I did, and life went on.

That was eight years ago.

Since then, I’ve periodically stayed in touch with the original attorney, who told me that Dr. Wang’s case was embroiled in a lengthy series of appeals.  The doctor eventually switched lawyers, and as far as I could tell, the world forgot about him.

Meanwhile, the Chinese organ trade continued, with its hospitals and court systems colluding to tissue-match their death row prisoners with wealthy foreigners buying organ transplants.  According to my notes from writing my novel, this often meant that a death row prisoner’s legal appeals could be affected by the need for his organs.  In 2007, in response to international pressure, China finally banned the practice of human organ trading.  But as recently as two weeks ago, ABC News (that’s the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) had this to say in its story, “Australian organ tourists drive sinister trade”:

Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas says he has uncovered evidence of organ harvesting from death row inmates and political prisoners in China.

He says evidence suggests that most of the 10,000 organ transplants which happen each year in China are the result of organ harvesting.

“We had investigators phoning in to Chinese hospitals, asking the hospitals if they had organs of Falun Gong practitioners to sell and we get admissions throughout China, which we have on tape saying, ‘Yes we do’, or ‘No we don’t, but you can go to this hospital’,” he said.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how the Chinese government apparently looks the other way when there’s money to be made.

Back to Dr. Wang.  After I read that ABC News story, I did my periodic Googling to check up on him.  This time I got lucky by finding a legal decision from a year ago, GUO QI WANG, Petitioner, v. Eric H. HOLDER, Jr., Attorney General of the United States, Respondent, before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.  The upshot of the decision was that although Dr. Wang was ultimately denied political asylum because of his “participation in a scheme to sell organs for profit on the black market,” he was nevertheless granted permission to stay in the United States — or, in the decision’s parlance, they granted his “application for deferral of removal.”  Today, I exchanged emails with the attorney who represented him, and he confirmed that Dr. Wang remains in the country and is able to work.  What kind of work, I don’t know. Certainly not practicing medicine.  When he first came here, I read somewhere that he was working as a sushi chef in New Jersey.

So, after nine years elapsed time, I think we can finally close the chapter on Dr. Wang Guoqi.  He wasn’t granted political asylum, but I’m not sure that means very much since all he wanted was to avoid being deported back to his death.  I imagine it’s just a matter of status, and that it will complicate any efforts he might make toward gaining citizenship.  A friend of mine recently told me of the bureaucratic hell he went through to get his own U.S. citizenship.  But that’s a rant for another day. . . .