By: Clay Wirestone
If a prisoner on death row wants to donate his organs, should he be allowed to do it?
The answer is “yes,” according to Oregon prisoner Christian Longo, who wrote in the New York Times this month about his quest to donate his organs as a form of restitution. “There are more than 110,000 Americans on organ waiting lists,” Longo wrote. “Around 19 of them die each day. There are more than 3,000 prisoners on death row in the United States, and just one inmate could save up to eight lives.”
Longo’s attempts to become an organ donor have been rebuffed by prison officials. To advocate for his ideas, he has formed a group called G.A.V.E., or Gifts of Anatomical Value to Everyone, and has started a website, gavelife.org.
The challenges of prisoner organ donation are many. One of the biggest is that fact that most states execute prisoners with a drug cocktail that effectively destroys their organs. Oregon,however, uses a sizable dose of barbiturate, which leaves the organs intact.
Some also worry that prisoners may be infected with HIV or hepatitis, according to Longo. While those diseases are found among prison populations, testing could screen prisoners well in advance of an execution. As Longo points out, most cases of organ donation (after someone dies in a car accident, for example) are far more rushed.
Longo has spoken to his fellow prisoners on death row. Of the 35 sentenced to die, nearly half expressed interest in becoming organ donors if they’re allowed to.
“If I donated all of my organs today,” Longo wrote, “I could clear nearly one percent of my state’s organ waiting list. I am 37 years old and healthy. Throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste.”
No law forbids death row inmates from donating their organs. And in a country where many die without receiving a needed transplant, this prisoner’s quest could mean life for many.
What do you think? Should prisoners be allowed to give their organs? If you needed an organ, would you accept one from a death row inmate? Why or why not? Write in the comments section and let us know how you feel.