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Organs from an Inmate

I read this article about Christian Longo in Esquire. Naturally, I was struck by the gruesomeness of his crimes and can't begin to imagine how someone can be so screwed up in the head, but I was also struck by his new mission.

The GAVE project seeks to change the way in which we kill prisoners on death row from lethal injection to, well, a different kind of lethal injection. Current methods render the body's organs unusable for transplant, and Longo simply wants a method that induces brain death so that prisoners - many of whom are repentant - can do one final act of "good" before they die.

I'm okay with the death penalty. If anything, I think it's somewhat obnoxious how long we allow people sentenced to death alive via their various appeals, but I also don't know the statistics on the number of people wrongly on death row and I certainly back the legal argument that they should have the legal rights to do so1.

That said, I also find it somewhat intriguing that with all of the knowledge medical science has these days and with such a need for organs that we still inject prisoners with a chemical cocktail that renders their organs unusable.

I have an organ donor sticker on my driver's license. I have had a "donate life" badge on this blog with my own stupid "Donate Life: Because if you're not using your body parts, someone else can." slogan next to it for several years now because it helps to remind me of a friend who has had one and will need a second heart transplant.

It's also interesting to think of how someone would feel if they had a new liver or kidney or even heart or lung from a convicted, sentenced, and executed murderer. One one hand, it's just a bunch of cells. Cells don't have a "memory." Your liver nor even your heart can compel you to do something (despite the story of a certain movie). On the other hand, well, ick. It may take a stronger than usual person - or perhaps an unusually forgiving one, or an unusually desperate one - to accept organs from the executed. It's creepy; I get that. In my case, should I ever need an organ, I think I'd get over it, but I can see how it might freak out others.

If I put myself in the position of someone who's going to die in a week because he can't get an organ he needs, I'm going to be awfully pissed off at both a medical and legal establishment that's there to protect the innocent and heal the sick if there's an inmate that wants to give me an organ and I'm willing to take it. I'd be asking - or at least wondering - if the doctors and lawyers feel as though they're guilty of committing a murder of their own.

Footnotes

  1. I suppose I just wish the courts could hear and uphold the rulings more efficiently.

8 Responses to "Organs from an Inmate"

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organlegging

    Not making any kind of statement with that link btw. I have strong feelings about the death penalty (and organ donation), but don't really feel the need to include them there.

  2. Haven’t read the article, but there are probably a few issues standing in the way. First, it’s difficult to find a drug that will reliably induce brain death in a humane manner. Secondly, the brain death exam is fairly rigorous. In most states, the exam requires two clinical exams of brain stem reflexes performed by two different physicians. The exams typically must be 6-8 hours apart. In order to be considered brain dead, any drugs that may suppress brain activity (i.e. the very same drug you used to cause the brain death in this scenario) must have completely cleared from the system. During this time, the subject must be kept on a ventilator to maintain oxygenation and typically IV drips to maintain adequate levels of organ perfusion during this time. Needless to say, this can get pretty expensive.

  3. Jason said on January 15, 2010:

    First, it’s difficult to find a drug that will reliably induce brain death in a humane manner.

    What's the humane part matter? I'm not suggesting we treat prisoners inhumanely, but if these guys want to donate their body parts then perhaps they'll agree to a process that may or may not be humane.

    Put a guy under, take out his parts, and inject him with something that'll kill him for sure at the end while he's still unconscious.

  4. I think you’d find a very hard time trying to find a transplant surgeon willing to harvest from a living person.

  5. Jason said on January 15, 2010:

    I think you’d find a very hard time trying to find a transplant surgeon willing to harvest from a living person.

    Heh, yeah, Sam appears not to have thought of that small fact.

  6. I've never understood using lethal injection. Why not execute people like so:

    1) Put them in a sealed room
    2) Slowly pump out the air, while replacing it with nitrogen

    There is no step three. The person falls asleep, they then die painlessly in their sleep. There is no organ damage, there are no expensive chemicals used.

    1. For organ donation, the heart needs to keep beating to maintain perfusion to the organs until the time of harvest. Also, asphyxiation by oxygen depletion isn’t always painless and some suffer quite a bit. The same can be argued for lethal injection, but that’s probably best left for another discussion.

  7. There are also serious ethical considerations for our society regarding execution and organ donation.


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