Inmates, organ transplants and ethics

Members of a chain gang get to work. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Should prisoners be allowed to volunteer as organ donors? Lawmakers in Utah decided recently that the answer is yes, but the issue remains controversial — especially when it involves inmates on death row.

This story from NBC News provides a pretty good overview of the issue, including an interview with an inmate Joanne Ford who is pleased about the new law. Ford sees organ donation as a chance to redeem herself for past mistakes, but not everyone thinks allowing prisoners who die in jail to donate is a good idea:

Whether to accept organs from prisoners has long been a thorny issue. Ethics experts say it pits questions of coercion of a vulnerable population against the desperate need for organs in a country where nearly 118,000 people are waiting for hearts, kidneys, livers and other life-saving transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. In most states, accepting organs from inmates who die while in custody is permitted only rarely and under strictly controlled circumstances. No state allows donation of organs from executed prisoners.

Now for an even tricker ethical question: Should an inmate on death row be allowed to receive an organ? Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena, who’s awaiting execution in Oregon, has been on dialysis years. Last April, prison doctors suggested he be put on the state’s waiting list for a kidney transplant. And, according to this story from ABC News, his access to prison health care could even improve his chances of getting an organ.

A hard decision, for sure. What do you think?


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