Skip

"I could clear nearly 1 percent of my state’s organ waiting list."
March 7, 2011 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Giving life after death row. Death row inmate Christian Longo continues his crusade to allow prisoners to donate their organs with an op ed in the Times. Post mortem voluntary donation supposedly avoids the same consent issues as some recent domestic and international cases. Journalist Michael Finckel--whose identity was stolen by Longo at one point--describes his own part in how Longo came to this cause (Finkel's encounter with Longo was part of his own redemption story after a fabrication scandal at the New York Times Magazine).
posted by availablelight (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. I assume there are no contamination issues from the drugs used(?) but aside from that I don't see why they shouldn't have the option like any other citizen. The sentence is death, and after death sentence is completed. I can't really see why the state feels it has the right to forbid it.
posted by jaduncan at 6:31 AM on March 7, 2011


Actually, set against this I can see it's important that the recipient knows; lots of people might have an issue with the donor. But I'd be happy enough to use the objections to jump up the queue. Call it Darwinism.
posted by jaduncan at 6:38 AM on March 7, 2011


I believe that the objection comes in the form of a slippery slope argument. First you get voluntary donation of organs by death row inmates, then you get coerced donation, then you get increasing numbers of people being sentenced to death because their organs are in such great demand. I am not saying that this is what would happen, although it is certainly something that might happen.
posted by grizzled at 6:43 AM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


There is the Aztec method I've heard about, where technicians sedate the person to be executed and then remove all the vital organs for transplant. Lacking important things like a heart, the prisoner dies under sedation with no damage to the organs.

I think the death penalty is barbaric and antiquated now that we have high security and supermax prisons for lifetime prisoners and it's still cheaper to put some on jail for life than to build a defense to justify execution (it's a myth it's the other way around), but I don't really see anything wrong with a prisoner on death row offering their organs. I get that people complain that the prisoner is doing it to "get off on power" or to "decide who lives and dies again," but those are flimsy moralistic excuses. For one, the prisoner's going to be dead after doing it. For another, it has a tangible positive effect, as opposed to the nebulous consequences of prisoners doing something people get squicked out about.

I admit if I got a transplant, I'd probably be a little surprised and upset at first. But given a few minutes, I'd come to the conclusion that this isn't the movies where the organs take over the host, and that it's better to have a working organ than to be dead.

I agree people should get the choice to pass up an opportunity at an organ from a prisoner on death row, as jaduncan said, but they'd be passing up an opportunity many people die waiting for.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something else that might happen: You get the hands of a strangler and soon you are blacking out and waking up from dreams of stalking the neighbourhood or tracking down the rest of the donated organs.
posted by biffa at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]



Interesting. I assume there are no contamination issues from the drugs used(?)


From the first link:

There is no law barring inmates condemned to death in the United States from donating their organs, but I haven’t found any prisons that allow it. The main explanation is that Oregon and most other states use a sequence of three drugs for lethal injections that damages the organs. But Ohio and Washington use a larger dose of just one drug, a fast-acting barbiturate that doesn’t destroy organs. If states would switch to a one-drug regimen, inmates’ organs could be saved.

posted by availablelight at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


then you get increasing numbers of people being sentenced to death because their organs are in such great demand.

It does happen. Just not here. Yet.
posted by electroboy at 6:49 AM on March 7, 2011


That reminds me, I completely need to watch Body Parts again.
posted by adipocere at 6:55 AM on March 7, 2011


I don't see why they shouldn't have the option like any other citizen.

Because then the state, and certain people in it become uniquely motivated for death-row inmates to be executed. It sets up a number of extremely perverse (if not outright sociopathic) incentives for judges, jurors, and lawyers. After all, wouldn't a judge feel a lot better about sentencing a possibly-innocent drifter to death, if he had the knowledge that his death would save the lives of a dozen cancer patients?

If we've learned nothing else in the past decade, it's that we've executed a significant number of innocent people in recent history. I hate to turn this into a pro/anti-death penalty discussion, but things like this are exactly why the state should not have the power or authority to kill its own citizens. Capital offenses are already difficult enough to try and judge rationally -- adding another variable to the mix is a recipe for disaster.
posted by schmod at 7:00 AM on March 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


if he had the knowledge that his death would save the lives of a dozen cancer patients?

Are you assuming we also require inmates donate their organs?
posted by floam at 7:11 AM on March 7, 2011


I kind of quoted the wrong part there, whoops, schmod.
posted by floam at 7:12 AM on March 7, 2011


floam: Are you assuming we also require inmates donate their organs?

I think it's safe to say that'll follow pretty quickly.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even if it was allowed, there's still a lot of internal debate amongst doctors over whether they should participate in executions at all, let alone causing the death of a living (and presumably healthy) patient by removing their organs.

I think it's possible to create a system where prisoners wouldn't be coerced into organ donation, but I'm not particularly optimistic.
posted by electroboy at 7:27 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am frankly amazed that nobody has mention Larry Niven yet.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:34 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's "safe to say it would follow quickly" in the U.S. system--particularly because there are religious objections to organ donation, if I recall correctly--but in any event I don't think it would follow quickly that donation was required of condemned prisoners. Nonetheless, allowing condemned prisoners to donate organs creates incentives in the justice system that should not be there, as schmod points out. Allowing organ donation bright-lights the sole very tangible benefit of execution: you get those healthy organs into a person who needs them. Redemption stories are seductive and the literally saving a life in the prisoner's execution is the most pat of all redemption stories. That this dilemma exists at all, in my opinion, demonstrates the perverse and unworkable nature of capital punishment in an organized system of justice.

However, I think use of a drug protocol which permits the organs to be harvested and allowing prisoners to designate that their organs be donated is as close to civilized as you can get in a capital punishment system. It affords some measure of dignity and self-determination to the prisoner, who has almost none. For the most part, condemned individuals cannot even order the appeal of their sentence halted; although there is some room in the system for them to waive appeals of their conviction.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:37 AM on March 7, 2011


"I don't think it's "safe to say it would follow quickly" in the U.S. system--particularly because there are religious objections to organ donation, if I recall correctly"

And by this, of course, I mean "I don't think it's "safe to say mandatory organ donation would follow quickly" in the U.S. system--particularly because there are religious objections to organ donation, if I recall correctly."
posted by crush-onastick at 7:38 AM on March 7, 2011




Once you create the ability, use follows soon after. You can attempt to put up barriers around the use but there's always someone who has a really good reason to use it. Take the census in the United States. Okay, we were naughty for that whole thing with the Japanese during World War II, we won't do it again, we promise.

Then in 2003, Homeland Security requests some statistical data on Americans self-identifying as Arab. (And that's as much as we know). EPIC catches that through FOIA and the government is all embarrassed and says, "we won't do it again, we promise."

For every taser that police budget purchases, imagine it being used on your unruly ten year old. For every camera bought by a government agency, imagine it pointed in the bedroom window of a loved one. For every use, an abuse, a decade later or two. Then, weigh carefully.
posted by adipocere at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


This seems like such a logically "good" idea to me, why should it matter which human the donor organ came from? i can understand schmod (and others) concerns (Because then the state, and certain people in it become uniquely motivated for death-row inmates to be executed.) but given the amount of shit america seems to be mired in right now, i don't think the general population would be too worried about that happening. and if it did, no doubt the tea party would be celebrating like crazy.
posted by marienbad at 7:58 AM on March 7, 2011


More on Longo's motivation, from the linked article by Finkel:

And yet my apparent enthusiasm for — and ancillary participation in — his execution also troubled [Finkel's wife]. She felt, in essence, that I was helping kill a person with whom I'd had a profoundly intricate relationship, and that this would weigh on my conscience. She said what I first needed to do, before I agreed to witness Longo's death, was try my hardest to talk him out of it.

I realized she was right. So I wrote Longo a letter. I knew, innately, that any emotion-based argument would accomplish nothing. But I did have an idea. Longo, I believed, really wanted to "enhance someone else's life," as he wrote, by sacrificing his own, a real-life version of the Will Smith movie. However, I'd spoken with a transplant surgeon and learned that the execution procedure — sodium pentothal then pancuronium bromide then potassium chloride poured into the veins — rendered all organs useless. Some skin tissue could be saved. Maybe the heart valves. Then his body could be donated to a medical school.

It wasn't much — it didn't seem to fulfill his goal — and I told him so in my letter. The problem, I wrote, was that the state-administered death cocktail produced heart failure. If you were able to change the procedure (the law isn't specific about the precise drugs used) so that it induced brain death instead, the organs could be transplanted. And then, I continued, if you signed up other inmates and the idea went national, you might save the lives of dozens of people who would've died on organ waiting lists. "Sounds like 10 years work to me, minimum," I wrote, though I also noted that he could quit, any time, and resume his current plan. "What's your reaction?"

Longo was astounded. When he read my letter, he told me, something inside of him clicked. A switch was thrown. He felt an enthusiasm he hadn't experienced in years. He felt inspired. It's "giving me goose bumps," he wrote.

posted by availablelight at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2011


Requiring organ donation is clearly legally wrong; as much as the state does not own the body (and it does not) organ donation cannot be required.
posted by jaduncan at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also has to be said that presumably we wouldn't tell the judiciary the donor status of the condemned for the reasons mentioned above. The very act of attempting to find out is so clearly dangerous that I suspect it would be grounds for a conviction being sucessfully appealed.
posted by jaduncan at 8:03 AM on March 7, 2011


Previously with now dead link. Working link.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:13 AM on March 7, 2011


In 2001 he had strangled his wife and two-year-old daughter inside their condominium on the Oregon coast, stuffed them in suitcases, and sunk them in a bay. Then he drove his four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to a nearby bridge, tied rocks to their legs, and tossed them into frigid water, alive.

Oh my fucking god.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2011




However, I'd spoken with a transplant surgeon and learned that the execution procedure — sodium pentothal then pancuronium bromide then potassium chloride poured into the veins — rendered all organs useless.

I wonder what surgeon he spoke with; all of those drugs are routinely used in anesthetized patients (potassium chloride not so often but occasionally) including patients undergoing transplants. The fact that the heart stops as part of the process is a problem, but there is work being done on transplanting organs after cardiac death as well.
posted by TedW at 9:55 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is the web site Longo ("Short stop" in prison lingo --opposite of Long go) setup.

(also, the second link in the FPP)
posted by availablelight at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2011


What about the organs he can donate while he's alive. Some of the ethical issues could be cleared up by at least allowing death row inmates to perform living donations (maybe they can already?). Kidneys and parts of the lungs, liver, pancreas, and intestines can all be donated alive.

Since the living donation doesn't depend on the death of the inmate, there's considerably less increased risk of condemning people to death. Safeguards would be needed to ensure that inmates weren't coerced or induced into signing up.

What about blood and plasma donations? Given the woeful conditions in US prisons, extra screening might be a good idea.
posted by jedicus at 11:22 AM on March 7, 2011


The problem with that, jedicus, is the moral question of whether a prison population can truly be said to be voluntarily participating in blood donation or live organ donation. Can you really prevent guards from treating a prisoner who donated his kidney to a dying kid better than a prisoner who didn't? Should you allow that better treatment? Should it bother us that it will happen? At a bare minimum, you get extra cookies and juice and a chance to chat with a blood donation worker who isn't a prison guard when you donate blood and that's a privilege--now it's being traded for with your body. Can we allow this?

What about the prisoner who has a religious objection or physical difficulty giving blood? How do we deal with the lack of parity in treatment?
posted by crush-onastick at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2011


That's what I meant by "Safeguards would be needed to ensure that inmates weren't coerced or induced into signing up." I recognize that there are issues even when it's a living donation or even a donation without long-term consequences (e.g. blood donation).

Perhaps the better answer would be fundamental reform of our prisons to the point that we could say "okay, maybe guards would be a little nicer to prisoners that sign up to give blood, but the guards are pretty nice to everybody since the goal is rehabilitation and education of fellow human beings rather than degrading punishment and long-term storage."

Also, some of those concerns exist in other, non-prison situations. Consider a workplace blood drive. A worker might feel peer pressure or pressure from his or her boss to give blood. He or she might simply want a chance to take a short break from work and talk to someone who isn't one of their irritating co-workers. The worker is paying for that recognition and break with his or her body, just like the hypothetical prisoner. These issues are certainly magnified in the prison context, but they do occur elsewhere.

Given these kinds of issues, I favor leveling up by making things better for everybody so that the issue becomes a non-issue rather than leveling down by removing the probably-beneficial-but-problematic policy. So, better that people are happy and secure in their employment options so that whether they do or don't participate in a blood drive is a non-issue rather than eliminating workplace blood drives.
posted by jedicus at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What about blood and plasma donations? Given the woeful conditions in US prisons, extra screening might be a good idea.

Most blood donation organizations disqualify anyone who has spent more than minimal time in prison or jail in the past year. See, for example, these rules and these FDA guidelines. While blood is tested, a fair portion of the blood supply's safety system comes from voluntary disclosure of risk factors, which eliminates riskier blood from the system. This is important because blood can be infected with recently acquired conditions that are not yet detectable by tests due to window period effects. The risk factor disclosure process only works when there is no real pressure to donate.

With prison blood donors, you have a very high risk population for HIV, hepatitis (hepatitis C is horribly common in the US prison population), TB, and other nasties. You also have a greater frequency of recent IV drug use and non-sterile tattoos.

I can see organ donation working with very strict controls on an individual basis for death row inmates, but that problem is a lot more manageable than taking blood donations from the general prison population. This has also been tried before, with incredibly bad (see about half way down the page) results.
posted by zachlipton at 7:50 PM on March 7, 2011


« Older Stasi, SSIS, ...   |   The Ultimate In-N-Out Secret... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post