Sunday, September 9, 2012


It's been about 18 months since I wrote about the perhaps aptly named Christian Longo and his doomed and perhaps quixotic quest to donate his organs.
Longo, if you don't recall (and at this remove why would you?), wrote an op-ed for the NY Times explaining his desire to donate as many of his organs as possible and volunteering to drop his appeals in exchange.
Huh? Drop his appeals?  What appeals?  Oh, those appeals.
See, Longo is on death row in Oregon for the murders of his wife and his (her? their?) three children.  He's not looking to cut a deal, to garner support for clemency.  He'd just like to do a bit of good.  Call it a desire for redemption if you want to find a way to make it self-serving.
But redemption, rehabilitation, what's the harm?  After all, they still get to kill him.  Sooner, in fact.
Here's part of what Longo wrote.
I understand the public’s apprehension. And I know that it could look as if what I really want are extra privileges or a reduction in my sentence. After all, in a rare and well-publicized case last December, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi released two sisters who had been sentenced to life in prison so that one could donate a kidney to the other. But I don’t expect to leave this prison alive. I am seeking nothing but the right to determine what happens to my body once the state has carried out its sentence.
If I donated all of my organs today, I could clear nearly 1 percent of my state’s organ waiting list. I am 37 years old and healthy; throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste.
And yet the prison authority’s response to my latest appeal to donate was this: “The interests of the public and condemned inmates are best served by denying the petition.”
As I said, it's been 18 months.  But now the Times has what you might think of as a follow-up, from Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune. 
The short of it?
Ain't nothing gonna change.
There are a smattering of programs that allow prisoners to donate organs.  But not prisoners on death row.  Grissom explains (links deleted).
Criminal justice and medical experts say that the idea of recovering organs from willing convicted murderers is fraught with moral, ethical and medical challenges that make it unlikely to ever be an option.
“It’s complicated in ways that are very messy and very fuzzy,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
The Criminal Justice Department allows offenders in the general prison population to donate organs, like kidneys, while they are alive in certain cases and after death if they complete a donor form.
The prospect of death row organ donation, though, prompts several questions, said Dr. David Orentlicher, a co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Is an inmate giving free and informed consent, or is he hoping to win favorable treatment? Would a donation affect jurors in murder cases who are weighing the death penalty versus life sentences? Or prosecutors deciding whether to seek the death penalty? Or governors deciding whether to grant clemency?
There is also the possibility that allowing death row organ donation could lead jurors to issue more death sentences, Dr. Orentlicher said.
For prospective recipients, there are emotional and mental considerations, he added.
“People might say, ‘Gosh, I’m walking around with the organ of a murderer,’ ” he said. “It may be irrational, but I suspect that’s lurking there.” 
And of course, they'd have to change the execution procedures to allow for harvesting.
But you know, that's doable.
I do understand the problems.  And I was probably too dismissive of them when I wrote about this last time.  But they're within the realm of what could be solved pretty easily if the will were there.  They'd want to be careful, to build in some safeguards, to craft some careful rules.
But they could do it easily enough.
And help save a whole bunch of lives.
And execute people, too.
If the will were there.
But it's not.  The problem isn't the ethical, moral questions.  We know that because they can be resolved.  And the problem isn't the medical questions because they can be resolved, too.
No, the problem is that we want to kill these guys and feel good about it.  Volunteers complicate that.  Volunteers who are trying to do something good make it downright awkward.
It's been 18 months since Christian Longo's op ed.  More states have taken up killing by use of single barbiturate which would (unlike the three-drug sequence) leave organs undamaged.  
Still, no movement.
Look, if you've paid any attention to this blawg you know that I'm a fervent opponent of the death penalty. Always.
But if we're going to be killing them, why not let them do some good?
Oh, yeah.  Because if they want to do good, then maybe they shouldn't be killed.


  1. The concern is probably driven in part by Larry Niven's exploration of the concept in his Known Space universe (see Part of the environment there is well described by this: "For centuries, due to the perfection of organ transplant technology, all state executions were done in hospitals to provide organ transplants, and to maximize their availability nearly all crimes carried the death penalty, including such offenses as multiple traffic tickets or tax evasion."

    1. With all respect, no. Not a ghost of a chance. On the microscopically small chance this isn't pure spam, I'll leave it up for a day or two before deleting it.