19 January 2011

Ted McLaughlin : Haley Barbour's 'Eye for a Kidney' Deal

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour: organ trafficker?

An eye for a kidney?
Haley Barbour's terrible precedent

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / January 19, 2011
See "Haley Barbour breaks the U.S. Organ Transplant Act," Below.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has received a lot of good press recently for commuting the life sentences of two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott (who had been convicted in 1994 of setting up a victim for an armed robbery that netted $11).

One of the sisters needed a kidney transplant, and the other had offered her kidney for the transplant. Barbour said, "The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi."

Let me be clear here -- I do not oppose the commutation of the women's prison sentences. There were many who believed the sentence had been too harsh to begin with, and the women had already served 16 years of that sentence. If the sisters did not pose a threat to society, and there was no need of further "rehabilitation," then the governor did the right thing by commuting their sentences and freeing them.

And it is also within the powers of the governor to release them to save the state substantial medical bills, even if that seems a rather hard-hearted reason. It is even within the governor's right to commute the sentences for political reasons -- to repair some political damage he caused himself by downplaying the role of the White Citizen's Councils in fighting against Civil Rights in the 1960s.

But there is something about the governor's action in commuting these sentences that I find very troubling. He made a it requirement that one of the sisters give up her kidney -- the commutation would not have happened without it (and they could be re-incarcerated if the donation failed to take place).

Now I don't doubt that the sister was happy and very willing to donate a kidney to her sister. It is her right to do so (or not to do it). But she should not have been forced to do so with the threat of a continuing incarceration. By making it a requirement, in effect, the governor sold a commutation -- and the price was one kidney. This sets a very bad precedent, and may violate the law. [See story below.]

Is it now a policy of the State of Mississippi that a prisoner can purchase his release by selling (donating) a kidney, or some other body part? It is not outside the realm of possibility that a future ethically-challenged governor (not uncommon for politicians of both parties) could repeat this action to get a kidney (or other body part) from a prisoner for a friend, family member, or high-profile person. After all, the precedent has now been set.

The governor had reasons to commute these sentences if that's what he wanted to do, but it was just wrong for him to demand the payment of a kidney for the release. And I'm shocked that few people have noticed the ethical and moral problems of the governor's decision.

Prison is for punishment and rehabilitation. It is not, and should never be, a source of organ donations.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

Jamie and Gladys Scott.
Haley Barbour breaks the U.S. Organ Transplant Act

Gladys and Jaime Scott went to a Mississippi prison for life in 1994 after committing an armed burglary which netted the then teens $11. On December 30, 2010, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences, but one sister's release is contingent on her giving a kidney to the other. [....]

While donating a kidney is extremely safe when donors are healthy and a rigorous evaluation has taken place, it does have a small risk of death. Requiring a prisoner to agree to take this risk in return for parole violates international transplant standards and human rights.

The idea that prisoners are able to consent to risky medical treatment in return for benefits is one that ethicists have long questioned. It's one step removed from the Chinese government practice of selling the organs of executed prisoners and kidneys from live Falun Gong and others in jail. The Chinese have made the practice illegal in response to international pressure, although few experts think it has stopped.

Governor Barbour and the prison board seem unaware that under the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) (42 U.S.C. 274e) it is "unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation."

What could be more "valuable consideration" than a get out of jail card? And given the state's concern about the cost of Jaime's dialysis they too receive valuable consideration in dumping Jaime and Gladys on Florida for a possible transplant.

Now, according to NOTA, any person who violates the valuable consideration provision "shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." The State Attorney General in Mississippi should move immediately to bar the parole if the condition of transplantation is not rescinded.

And the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should uphold the National Organ Transplant Act and ensure that if the parole proceeds as planned with organ donation a requirement, it be made clear that any hospital, physician or other individual including Mississippi state officials who participated in the procurement and transplant of the organ will be charged under NOTA. [....]

-- Frances Kissling / The Huffington Post
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