Milton V. Griffin, scheduled to be executed March 25 for choking, beating and fatally stabbing a man in 1986, says he would gladly swap a kidney or some bone marrow to save his neck.
"I can never make up for the crime that I committed," Griffin, 37, said from his southeastern Missouri prison cell. But with an organ donation - in exchange for sparing his life - "I can give back to the community."Such a transaction isn't legal. But it would be allowed under a controversial proposal in the Missouri Legislature.
On the same day Griffin is to die by lethal injection, a House committee is to consider a bill allowing condemned inmates to donate bone marrow or a kidney in exchange for having their sentence changed to life in prison without parole.
Nationally, about 39,000 patients are on waiting lists for kidneys and an estimated 3,000 more await life-saving bone marrow transplants. Missouri has 86 men and one woman on death row.
Rep. Chuck Graham calls his proposal "life for a life."
"We don't have enough heroes to meet the need," said Graham, who supports the death penalty yet contends even the most brutal killers could do something positive for society by donating organs.
There was national outrage about recent reports that China was allegedly executing prisoners to harvest their organs for profit.
Some medical experts have said that organs from any inmate put to death by injection shouldn't be transplanted because the organs could be damaged by the execution process, and in 1984, Congress outlawed selling human organs in the United States.
But Graham, a Democrat from Columbia, said his proposal wouldn't conflict with federal law because the inmate donations would be voluntary.
National organ donor organizations, medical ethicists and even some patients awaiting transplants are horrified about Graham's idea.
"I wouldn't want those organs in my body," said Carmen Epps, 34, of St. Louis, who has spent more than three years on a kidney waiting list. She would rather continue kidney dialysis than accept an organ from murderers.
Graham said the same judge who imposed the death sentence would have to approve the transplant, and testimony from a victim's survivors would be considered.
Dr. Jeffrey Lowell, assistant professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, questioned allowing a healthy inmate to live while an unhealthy inmate could be executed because he didn't qualify as a donor.
Although the nation needs more organ donors, "The solution is not to come up with far-fetched, cockamamie programs," Lowell said.
"It's real easy to take shots," Graham said. "If the medical community has better ideas, then bring them to me."
The National Conference of State Legislatures has heard of no similar legislation in other states, spokesman Gene Rose said.
Griffin, 37, wouldn't be covered by Graham's bill because condemned inmates would have to request participation within a year after sentencing.
Lowell said the idea isn't medically feasible for many prisoners with histories of abusing drugs and alcohol. For example, the AIDS virus might not be immediately detectable, and inmates might lie when asked about their sexual history or intravenous drug use.
Graham said it's stereotyping to suggest prisoners are always health risks. "I think we can do it safely," the lawmaker declared.
Advocates for organ donations are unconvinced.
"We feel like they should have altruistic reasons" for organ donations, "not for someone having their sentence changed," said Ellie Schlam, spokeswoman for the National Kidney Foundation.