Yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds. A new bill in Massachusetts would allow prisoners the option of donating their organs or bone marrow in exchange for a reduction in their sentence. The bill’s authors said this will increase the number of organ donors, but ethic experts believe the state would be exploiting already vulnerable individuals.
The bill, which would create a bone marrow and organ donation program, was introduced by lawmakers Carlos González and Judith Garcia, both Democrats. If approved, it would allow prisoners to get their sentence shortened between 60 days and 12 months in exchange for their donation, which could include a kidney or liver.
González told Boston.com that he came up with the idea of the bill after seeing a close friend wait for a kidney transplant for a long time and still don’t get it. “I love my friend and I’m praying through this legislation that we can extend the chances of life for him and any other person in a similar life-or-death situation,” he told the media outlet.
In the bill, González and Garcia say that authorizing prisoners to donate parts of their bodies would “restore” their “bodily autonomy” while easing an organ shortage crisis in Massachusetts. Almost 4,000 people living in the state are on an organ transplant waiting list. However, not every prisoner would automatically be allowed to donate.
According to the bill, a committee will have to choose the prisoner based on their eligibility and need. A panel of medical experts and advocates will also share their opinion. The US currently allows prisoners to donate their kidneys to family members. But in many states, like Massachusetts, there’s no official process for this to happen.
A problematic legislation
The bill raises several ethical concerns, Franklin Miller, a researcher at the National Institute of Health, wrote in a blog post. The incentive of a reduced sentence in exchange for an organ could be considered a bribe and coercive behavior, Miller said. Such a policy could be exploiting prisoners who are motivated to reduce their sentence, he added.
Danielle Allen, the director of Harvard’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics and a former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, told Yahoo News that organ donation has to be purely voluntary. “This is impossible in a context of a tie to punitive sanctions and the ability to impact them via a donation. The filers of the bill should be encouraged to withdraw it,” she said.
The bill could also exacerbate racial injustice and inequality, Brandon Paradise, a law professor at Rutgers Law School with a focus ethics, told Yahoo News. Of the about 10,000 people in prisons in Massachusetts, Black people account for 28% of those incarcerated and Latino 29%. But those groups represent 9% and 13% of the state’s population, respectively.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the bill has a chance of moving forward. But the lawmakers behind it and the critics do agree people incarcerated should be allowed to donate bone marrow or organs if they choose to do so of their own free will. But “you can’t incentivize it,” Michael Cox, head of the prison abolition organization Black and Pink Massachusetts, told Boston.com.