Child Killer's Request to Donate Organs 'Uncharted Territory'

PHOTO: This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows Ronald Phillips.PlayAP Photo
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A death row inmate who was scheduled to die today has been given eight more months to live as medical experts assess the feasibility of granting his wish to be an organ donor.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the stay of execution granted to Ronald Phillips, 40, was "uncharted territory" for the state. However the likelihood of such a donation was questioned by medical ethicists.

"Organ donation is the stuff of heroes and altruists and generous people. It doesn't mix with death row inmates," Art Caplan, head of the department of medical ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center, told

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Phillips is on death row at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

With more than 120,000 waiting for a transplant and approximately 3,000 inmates on death row, there is an opportunity to put a significant dent in the list if donations are accepted from condemned prisoners, such as Phillips.

However, donations from condemned prisoners in the United States are almost unprecedented, according to experts.

A spokesperson for the United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates transplants across the United States, told in a statement that "significant concerns remain with any consideration of organ recovery from condemned prisoners."

Among the issues are the exploitation of prisoners, disease transmission and the need to arrange for security to guard the donors at transplant hospitals, the organization said.

It's a question that has come up in the past. Two years ago in Oregon, Christian Longo, who is condemned for the murders of his wife and three children, asked authorities if he could donate his organs. After his request was denied, he became an advocate for prison organ donations.

"If I donated all of my organs today, I could clear nearly 1 percent of my state's organ waiting list," he wrote in a 2011 New York Times op-ed. "I am 37 years old and healthy; throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste."

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With less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to die of a lethal injection, Phillips learned of his temporary reprieve.

"He's extremely pleased. His first words were, 'God is good,'" his attorney, Tim Sweeney, told "He's been very reflective and thoughtful over the past few weeks."

Phillips' request to donate a kidney to his ailing mother and his heart to his sister was made on Monday in a letter sent by his attorneys to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. His request was denied on Tuesday by prison officials who said it was "made at a very late hour."

Sweeney said Phillips made the request to donate his organs, while living or dead, without any conditions.

"What we're principally looking at now is him donating organs he can donate while alive and then safely return [him] to the prison to wait for the execution date," Sweeney said.

Organ Collection After Death 'Impossible'

While Phillips' mother may benefit from receiving one of her son's kidney's, Sweeney said it was unlikely the inmate's sister would receive his heart, which will likely be buried with him.

The collection of organs after death isn't just an ethical issue, Caplan said. It's one of feasibility since the lethal cocktail of pain killers and sedatives used in lethal injection harms organs.

"Current methods of execution are aimed at rapidly causing death by organ failure," he said.

Even if the organs were able to be saved, they would have to be harvested immediately after a prisoner is pronounced dead, Caplan said, since there is no life support.

"When you start to really look at the whole notion of getting organs from an executed prisoner," he said, "you face a mountain of problems so huge it makes it seem impossible."