Give a Kidney to Shorten Your Prison Sentence?


March 9, 2007 — -- It's an over-the-top get out of jail free card. All you have to do is agree to have your body cut open and hand over a kidney. Would you donate an organ if you knew it would get you an early release from prison? There's a possibility desperate inmates could soon get the chance to make that decision for themselves, if a new proposed bill gets passed in South Carolina.

In a totally bizarre proposal, lawmakers there are considering legislation that would let prisoners donate organs or bone marrow in exchange for time off their sentences. The incentive policy would be the first of its kind in the nation.

A state Senate panel on Thursday endorsed creating an organ-and-tissue donation program for inmates. That's not really an issue. But the stickier measure legislators re debating: whether to reduce the sentences of participating prisoners. The bill would shave up to 180 days off a prison sentence for donor inmates.

The bill's chief sponsor, Democratic Sen. Ralph Anderson, says he thinks it is imperative that this bill gets passed. "This country is in desperate need of organ donors," Anderson. Says. "Thousands of people are dying and it's very difficult to get someone to donate bone marrow or an organ . I think this would be a new population that they could draw from and would save lives on top of lives." Anderson says he thinks a lot of prisoners would be pleased to know they've contributed to saving a life.

More than 95,300 Americans are awaiting an organ transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. About 6,700 die each year.

Chances are the bill will not pass because it's probably going to be considered a violation of federal law. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act in 1984 that makes it a federal crime "to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation. It is likely 180 days off a sentence could constitute "valuable consideration."

But there are serious ethical issues at stake. For one thing, being locked up and wanting to get out might make a person too desperate to be able to think rationally. Dr. Douglas W. Hant, Chief of the Division of Transplantation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says someone who is incarcerated can not make a free and informed decision to donate. "There is always the risk and possibility of coercion, particularly if there is a reward such as 180 days off a sentence."

And it's not a light decision. Being an organ donor is a serious operation and can be dangerous.

It also might not be the best thing for the organ recipients either says Dr. Jonathan Groner Associate Professor of Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health. He explains the prison population has a much higher incidence of HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and even tuberculosis than the general population. "Not all of these infectious agents can be tested with 100 percent accuracy." Groner says. " I do not think that I would want a loved one to receive a "prison kidney."

Sen. Anderson says he believes the bill has a better than fifty percent chance of getting passed. "We just need to figure out a way to word it so it can legally become a reality." He says. ". I think this would be one of the best bills passed to improve health care in America."