04 January 2011

Post-Dispatch Editorial States the Truth; Can It Look in the Mirror, Too?

In its editorial page today, the Post-Dispatch rightly takes Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to task for requiring--as a condition for early release-- one of a pair of twin sister prisoners to donate her kidney to the other sister. However laudable the freewill donation of one kidney would be (and this is entirely different than the harvesting of organs where it is necessary for the "donor" to be killed in order to take the organs), for a state to require a person to give up a kidney in order to be granted her liberty is indeed barbaric and unconscionable.

Of course, a pro-life reader of the Post, after the glow of seeing this positive editorial development subsides, might reasonably ask just why the Post-Dispatch was so gung-ho in leading the fight to force babies in the womb to give up their entire lives so that unconsented and immoral medical research could be conducted on them.

Or perhaps one might wonder why the Post so reflexively urges immoral organ harvesting, supporting the pseudo-scientific shifting of the definition of death in order to keep the organs of a living person viable until needed by doctors who know better than God, who can then legally kill a victim to harvest them.

Or maybe one may wonder how the Post's editorial can have the temerity to compare the actions of Governor Barbour to China-style utilitarian social engineering without a single blush of irony at its own support of the state-sanctioned and societally encouraged mass genocide of abortion in the United States.

The blind hog can indeed sometimes find an acorn. Let's hope that this find might prompt the newspaper of record in this town to exercise its scant powers of logic and maybe, even, locate its soul.

the full editorial:

Required organ donation for prisoner is barbaric and unethical

By The Editorial Board
January 3, 2011

Just before the close of 2010, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour granted an early prison release to a pair of sisters serving two life sentences each for an armed robbery that netted $11.

It wasn’t just the long-overdue release of Gladys Scott and Jamie Scott that has drawn national attention. Rather, it was the unusual nature of their conviction and the barbaric, unethical condition for their release.

The Scott sisters, neither of whom had prior criminal convictions, were sentenced to two life terms each for a robbery in which no one was seriously injured. They were not alleged to have used force or a weapon; they were charged with luring two men to a place where they were robbed.

As an official condition of their release, 36-year-old Gladys Scott will be required to “donate” a kidney to 38-year-old Jamie Scott, whose kidneys have failed.

Jamie Scott now receives daily dialysis at a cost to the state of about $200,000 a year. Mr. Barbour, a former lobbyist who is considering a run for president in 2012, cited the cost of that treatment in a statement announcing their early release.

The NAACP campaigned to win the sisters’ release from what it argued — with strong justification — are unreasonably harsh prison sentences.

A spokesman for the Scotts told the Washington Post that requiring the organ donation as a condition of release was Gladys Scott’s idea.

Mr. Barbour said that the offer to “donate” a kidney, which was contained in an application for early release sent to the governor’s office, bolstered their appeal.

No matter who broached the idea first, making it a condition of early release is barbaric and unethical. It sets the stage for even more widespread abuse.

It’s not uncommon for convicts facing long prison terms to offer to “donate” organs in return for a lighter sentence.

Such proposals have been widely circulated in recent years as the shortage of transplantable organs, especially kidneys, has grown worse.

More than 110,000 people were awaiting transplants as of Monday afternoon; about 88,000 of them were waiting for a kidney.

African-Americans are disproportionately represented on waiting lists for kidneys, just as they are in prison and on death row.

Minorities, especially African-Americans, wait longer for available organs and often experience worse outcomes.

Part of the reason is that more are uninsured. But many also are reluctant to undergo treatments like organ transplants. That’s part of the lingering legacy of the Tuskegee study, in which African-American men who thought they were receiving care became unwitting subjects of a medical experiment.

An ethics committee from the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation’s transplant system, raised concerns about allowing prisoners, especially those facing death, reduced sentences in return for “donating” an organ.

The inconsistent ways the death penalty and life sentences are applied “suggest that these proposals would be coercive to particular classes of individuals — minorities and the poor,” the committee wrote.

Coerced donation puts the United States in company with the People’s Republic of China, the only other nation that makes the organs of prisoners available for transplantation. That’s not company we want to keep.

For the sake of the Scott sisters and his own state’s humanity, Mr. Barbour should rescind his barbaric edict and issue another one not conditioned on organ donation.


Anonymous said...

I can't say that I usually agree with you much, but on this, you are absolutely correct. It is barbaric. If you think that abortion was the beginning of the slippery slope on life issues, just wait until this insanity catches on.

Methodist Jim said...

Before beginning, I want to make sure that all know I'm with you in spirit on this issue. Any quid-pro-quo deal that says Prisoner A must give an organ for transplant is repugnant.

Because it is so repugnant (and it surprised me that Haley Barbour would be in favor of such a deal), I dug a little deeper than the P-D editorial into the issue. The "deal" itself, on paper, looks to be a quid-pro-quo, give up an organ and get out of prison. Definitely a bad thing.

But here is one possible reason behind the story that may explain the not-as-repugnant chain of events that led to the release of these prisoners with a repugnant-sounding deal.

From the AP story dated December 30: "After 16 years in prison, Jamie Scott, 36, is on daily dialysis, which officials say costs the state about $200,000 a year. Barbour agreed to release her because of her medical condition, but 38-year-old Gladys Scott's release order says one of the conditions she must meet is to donate the kidney within one year."

The key phrase there is that the release was granted to Jamie Scott "because of her medical condition."

Gladys Scott has no medical condition and, therefore, presumably, would not be released along with her sister under normal circumstances. However, these are not normal circumstances. Gladys' sister needs a kidney and Gladys' offered to give that kidney now (rather than in 2014 when she's eligible for parole) if the governor would suspend her sentence and let her out of prison now to do so. Barbour, not unreasonably when the issue is presented in this way, agreed to the request.

The grant of this indefinite suspension of sentence "is tantamount to parole" (according to Barbour's December 29 statement). And, since the reason that this "parole" was granted is so that Gladys Scott could give her kidney to her sister (not because her sentence was too long, not because she was wrongfully convicted) there is a condition on that "parole" that the reason it was granted be carried out.

Would it be ethical to grant Gladys a temporary furlough, at her request, in order for her to go to the hospital for the necessary pre-care, surgery, and post-operative care, then return her to prison? Would the quid-pro-quo that she actually do the things that you allow her out on the furlough to do be alright?

If so, how then is it less ethical to grant her an indefinite furlough to do the same thing, on the same condition?

Under the circumstances, I would rather that Barbour simply made a decision on whether or not he thought Gladys Scott's promise and desire to do this good thing for her sister was genuine. If so, release her unconditionally. But, I suspect, the ethical nuance here never entered anyone's mind until after the fact.

(P.S. Sorry for the length of the comment. I know that it isn't my blog but I couldn't pare this one down and still make the point I'm trying to make.)

thetimman said...

MJ, your points are well-made, in that perhaps the moral questions did not occur until after the fact. But as you note, they are there. And the utilitarian mindset that informs this act and which will spur new acts (perhaps even suggested by prisoners themselves, desperate to get released) is not a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I think that the bigger issue is probably in the sloppy reporting by the press. Maybe it's intentional, maybe it's stupidity. MJ's reading between the lines makes a lot more sense than the ridiculously odd sentence parsing in the story.

Methodist Jim said...

Thank you anon. I often make a lot more sense than the press - though that's not saying much.