Thursday, March 17, 2011

Organ donation from death row?

A thought provoking op-ed in the NY Times -- Giving Life After Death Row, By CHRISTIAN LONGO

His circumstances give him time to think, and he writes:
"EIGHT years ago I was sentenced to death for the murders of my wife and three children. I am guilty.
"I spend 22 hours a day locked in a 6 foot by 8 foot box on Oregon’s death row. There is no way to atone for my crimes, but I believe that a profound benefit to society can come from my circumstances. I have asked to end my remaining appeals, and then donate my organs after my execution to those who need them. But my request has been rejected by the prison authorities.
"There is no law barring inmates condemned to death in the United States from donating their organs, but I haven’t found any prisons that allow it.
Aside from these logistical and health concerns, prisons have a moral reason for their reluctance to allow inmates to donate. America has a shameful history of using prisoners for medical experiments. In Oregon, for example, from 1963 to 1973, many inmates were paid to “volunteer” for research into the effects of radiation on testicular cells. Some ethicists believe that opening the door to voluntary donations would also open the door to abuse. And others argue that prisoners are simply unable to make a truly voluntary consent.
"I am not the only condemned prisoner who wants the right to donate his organs. I have discussed this issue with almost every one of the 35 men on Oregon’s death row, and nearly half of them expressed a wish to have the option of donating should their appeals run out.
"...I don’t expect to leave this prison alive. I am seeking nothing but the right to determine what happens to my body once the state has carried out its sentence.

"If I donated all of my organs today, I could clear nearly 1 percent of my state’s organ waiting list. I am 37 years old and healthy; throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste.

"And yet the prison authority’s response to my latest appeal to donate was this: “The interests of the public and condemned inmates are best served by denying the petition.”

"Many in the public, most inmates, and especially those who are dying for lack of a healthy organ, would certainly disagree."

Christian Longo, a prisoner at Oregon State Penitentiary, is the founder of the organization Gifts of Anatomical Value From Everyone.

And here are some letters to the editor published in response, not all negative.

1 comment:

dWj said...

I don't understand the asymmetry surrounding our treatment of last wishes. Both with ordinary organ donors, in whose cases permission is again sought from next of kin, and with prisoners, who allegedly are "simply unable to make a truly voluntary consent", the choice to have one's organs wasted seems to be privileged over the choice to benefit society. Why does it make sense to double check whether organs should be donated, rather than to presume that, and only to verify with next of kin that "this decedent really did want his/her otherwise life-saving organs to be buried in the ground"? Why would we think that a prisoner, deprived of the opportunity to make a free choice, should be forced to choose to bar the closest thing they have to a means of true compensation for their crimes?