Kidneys from felons? Prisoner organ donation spurs debate

By Kate Bennion

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 11:05 a.m. MDT

Longo also founded the organization Gifts of Anatomical Value From Everyone to encourage tissue, organ and blood donation from populations not currently accepted, such as prisoners and gay men.

However, in a nation that remains on the fence about the death penalty, it's a fine line between "wasteful" and "cruel and unusual." The few methods of execution deemed to be constitutional don't lend themselves to donation.

"It's a very narrow set of circumstances where someone has the potential to be an organ donor," says McDonald. "Something like a lethal injection or firing squad would preclude that."

Death row donorship also compounds the ethical questions of prison organ donation. China, with the highest capital punishment rate in the world (around 5,000 are executed each year), currently has no national organ donor registry because all needed organs and tissues are supplied by executed prisoners. The controversial system is due to be phased out this year.

While the U.S. has far fewer executions than China (there were 43 in the U.S. in 2012), death row donations raise concerns that the justice system could be compromised or the need for organs could influence verdicts.

"Any legitimation of the use of executed prisoners in the U.S. may make it more difficult to protest cruel and unjust execution practices in other nations," argued Caplan. He said ethicists object to a practice that makes the death penalty more palatable and acceptable. "Prosecutors, judges or juries may be more likely to insist on the death penalty, knowing that lives might be saved."

Mitchell Jones, the 10-year-old boy in Utah, has since quietly passed away. And Guizar still thinks allowing prisoners to donate, especially to children, is "something that should be looked into."

"I've got kids myself, grandkids," Guizar told the Deseret News in an interview. "I'm almost 40. I should be able to decide if I live or die, if I can help someone."

A registered organ donor before his arrest, he said many of his fellow prisoners feel similarly. Organ donation could mean redemption, he said.

"There are bad people in prison, but there are good people too, especially when it comes to helping kids," Guizar said. "We're just sitting here in a warehouse wasting our lives."

EMAIL: kbennion@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @katebennion

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