Getting to the heart of the matter

March 30, 2011

by Amber Guyotte, COPY EDITOR

More than 100,000 people in the United States need an organ transplant to save their lives, according to Donate Life America.

With that number, one might think that any potential donor candidates would be greatly appreciated, but that isn’t the case for all people looking to be donors.

Recently, I found a column on The New York Times website written by a prisoner on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary. He was advocating for the right to donate his organs once he is executed. He has been denied the right to save lives after his death because prisons won’t allow death row inmates to donate their organs.

While I can understand why a prisoner on death row or any prisoner would not be able to be a donor, the fact that so many people could benefit from getting an organ transplant should be more important than who gives the organ.

Of course, there are certain things that go into consideration with a person from that kind of environment, including having to be tested for spreadable infections, such as HIV or hepatitis. However, thorough testing would determine donor eligibility, and the process could go from there.

What about the healthy prisoners who want to donate their organs? Do they get a say in the matter?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates in the general prison population, not on death row, are allowed to donate organs to immediate family members, but those facing death row cannot donate at all.

Whether these prisoners are trying in some way to make up for what they did to land them the death sentence or if they just want to donate, saving lives is what it should come down to in the end. That’s the heart of the matter.

The prisoner who wrote the column about donating his organs knows he cannot make up for murdering his wife and three children, but he wants to help people now because he feels remorse and wishes to make amends.

“There is no way to atone for my crimes, but I believe that a profound benefit to society can come from my circumstances,” said death row inmate Christian Longo in his New York Times column. “I have asked to end my remaining appeals and then donate my organs after my execution to those who need them. But, my request has been rejected by the prison authorities.”

In the column, Longo also said that more than 3,000 prisoners are on death row in the U.S. and “just one inmate could save up to eight lives by donating a healthy heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and other transplantable tissues.”

Another issue does arise; even if death row inmates are allowed to donate organs, but there is a solution.

Oregon and many other states use a concoction of three drugs for lethal injections that damages the organs, but Ohio and Washington use a larger dose of one fast-acting barbiturate that does not harm the organs, which makes them viable for transplants.

Other states could follow in Ohio and Washington’s footsteps involving the lethal injection regimen in order to save the inmates’ organ for those in need of transplants.

Think about how many lives could be saved if these additional organs were available. An average of 18 people die every day due to a lack of an available transplant, according to Donate Life America. This number could possibly decrease if inmates were allowed to donate their organs after their death.

Long said that if he could donate all of his organs, his organs would help almost 1 percent of his state’s organ donation waiting list because he is a healthy 37-year-old man. He also said that throwing his organs away after he is executed is a waste.

I agree that it’s a waste. The number of lives that could be saved with those organs should outweigh whatever circumstances keep this from being allowed. I think the possibility of saving lives is more important.

If only there was a way for inmates to give life after death, then more people could live.

Amber Guyotte is a junior journalism major from Jonesboro who serves as a copy editor for The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to ang017@latech.edu.