Pay Your Debt to Society….With Your Kidney!

In Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Misc., Progressive Politics on March 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

This has to be one of the strangest news stories I’ve read in a while. An article in The Post and Courier from Charleston, S.C., describes new legislation that might give prison inmates time off their sentences for donating organs, bone marrow, or other highly valued human tissue:

The measure approved by the Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee would set up a volunteer organ and tissue donor program in the state Corrections Department to educate inmates about the procedures and the need for donors. The incentive bill on which lawmakers want legal advice would shave up to 180 days off a prison sentence for a donation.

Firstly, if I ever go back to school, I think I’m gonna have to get my PhD in “Penology”. Wonder how much time they take off for sperm donation? At the very least, this poses all kinds of medical and ethical questions. As always, lets turn to our government officials for perspective:

“People are dying. I think it’s imperative that we go all out and see what we can do,” said the bills’ chief sponsor, Sen. Ralph Anderson, D-Greenville. “I would like to see us get enough donors that people are no longer dying.”

Enlightening, Ralph. Despite the decidedly simple language the Senator chose, and all of my quips aside, the issue itself is no less serious:

In South Carolina, 636 people are on a waiting list for organ donations, mostly kidneys. Last year, 291 people received organ transplants – 90 percent of them from dead donors. About 50 people awaiting transplants die each year, Blevins said.

Nationwide, about 6,700 people on organ waiting lists die yearly. More than 95,300 Americans are awaiting an organ transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

7% is a fairly high mortality rate, and given that it took 90% of the states’ donors to die in order to live up to that little heart on their license, it seems difficult to find new ways to close the gap. It takes an extraordinary amount of altruism to volunteer a piece of your body for the good of another, and if anyone has ever gone through major surgery, you’ll understand why. Here is a sample of the immediate aftermath of a 2-3 hour donation surgery (from the University of Maryland Medical Center):

You will wake up in the recovery room feeling groggy and a little uncomfortable. You will have an oxygen mask on and a catheter will be draining urine from your bladder into a collecting bag. It is important for the medical team to make sure your kidney is producing plenty of urine. The catheter usually stays in overnight so that your urine output can be measured.

You will receive nourishment and fluids through your IV until you are able to take liquids by mouth….

When you go home, your activities will be limited. You should not lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first six weeks. You may find that you need frequent naps for the first few weeks.

I guess the thinking here is that since normal people are averse to these kinds of things, why not try a more “captive” audience? Medically speaking, it’s actually not that bad of an idea. There are a battery of tests and screenings – both physical and psychological – one must pass in order to be considered a candidate for donation. And though the Yard obviously shouldn’t be one of them, if the inmate is healthy and ready to lay down on the table, there really aren’t that many reasons to deny a sick patient that much needed organ.

On the other hand, THEY’RE INMATES! Using our ever-growing prison population as an organ farm is an ethical disaster, only compounded by the incentives given in return. It’s not as though officials are forcing them to give up their innards outright, but I’m sure if you’ve spent time in the general population of any major prison, having any kind of time off dangled in front of you can make you do crazy things. And what about the decree of the judge? If this program is ever implemented, oversight about who merits the time off will lead to an array of moral quandaries. What crimes are worth a decreased sentence and why? And plus, where does one draw the line? If we already use them on chain gangs, to make license plates, to donate organs, why not gladiator-style royal rumble entertainment? How about medical testing? A year off to inject you with this green stuff sounds good. There are already enough people coming after your organs in prison, except they’re scalpels are sharpened from toothbrushes and they don’t wash their hands first. The government doesn’t need to add another pair of hands.

  1. […] Federalism is really something else. A couple weeks ago, South Carolina wanted their prisoners to donate their organs in exchange for time off, and now Illinois wants them to use jimmy hats. A recent story from the Chicago Sun Times outlined […]

  2. You know, if people got paid for their organs instead of being forced to give them for free, then we wouldn’t have a shortage. And we’d have more organ donors if their families were paid for the organs. Did you know prisoners’ organs are harvested all over the world and sold on the black market? It’s just like drug prohibition. Anytime something is prohibited, it creates a black market. Gangs wouldn’t have any way to make money if drugs were legal. What we have is a government that think they can tell us what’s best for us. America was meant to be the land of free market capitalism. Vote for Ron Paul in the primaries if you want America to be a free country again.

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