Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

They tried.  They really tried.  They just couldn't figure out a way to make it work.

Julie Carr Smyth lays it out for the AP.
Prison officials scrambled to review Phillips’ last-minute request, which they called unprecedented, but ultimately could not figure out a way to get the 40-year-old to and from an offsite hospital while following security procedures leading up to an execution.
Here's the deal.  Ronald Phillips has a family.  His mother is on dialysis with kidney disease.  His sister has some serious heart condition.  So Phillips figured that since he's going to be murdered on Tuesday,* he might as well give Mom his kidney and Sis his heart.  And he said, as long as he's at it, he'll give away the rest of his organs, too.

But no, they can't handle the logistics.  Get him to the hospital, let the doctors harvest his organs, then get him back to Lucasville so the prison guards can kill him.  Can't be done.  

Oh, they're probably right.  Forget the security issues.  Once they extract his heart, they'll struggle to keep him alive long enough to kill.  And the sentence, after all, is execution not death.  Everyone on the row who dies before the state can kill him beats the system, cheats the hangman, denies the state its pound of flesh.  (Though I suppose Phillips is actually offering more than a pound all told.)

The standard methods of getting organs from the dead won't exactly work here, either.  AP's Andrew Welsh-Huggins spoke with trauma surgeon Jonathan Groner.
Dr. Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon who has closely studied lethal injection, said donated organs typically come from people who are brain-dead but still have heartbeats and breathe with the help of a respirator. Phillips would not fit this category, Groner said.

Donors’ bodies are kept on life support for an average of 24 hours until the organs can be removed for transplant.
Phillips isn't the first person on death row to offer his organs.  Julie Carr Smyth:
In 1995, Delaware death row inmate Steven Shelton was allowed to donate a kidney to his mother while in prison, though he was not facing imminent execution. Following successful appeals, his death sentence was reversed and he was resentenced to prison time in 2011.
But of course Shelton's case was different - the donation and the execution (which didn't ultimately occur) were altogether distinct.  They wouldn't be for Phillips who's saying
Take the organs after you kill me.
He's not the first to offer.  Christian Longo, on death row in Oregon, explained in an Op Ed in the Times that he would drop all his appeals if he could donate his organs after the execution. Oregon said no. (I wrote about it here.)

But the subject keeps coming up.  Eighteen months after Longo's Op Ed, the Times provided a follow up via Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune. (I wrote about it here.)  The bottom line:
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. 
Back in April, Utah became the first state with a statute explicitly allowing inmates who die in state custody to donate their organs. (Other states apparently allow it, at least in some circumstances, but apparently don't have authorizing statutes.)  On its face, the statute seems to apply to those on death row, though it's not clear that it actually will.

And now there's Oklahoma.  Last week,, reported that a bell to let the folks on death row donate is being introduced.
Democratic state Rep. Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs says he's developing legislation that would give a person who's been convicted of taking a life an opportunity to give someone else a chance to live a longer life.
I do understand the moral and ethical problems.  And god knows I get the practical ones.   They're messy, but they're all within the realm of what can be controlled.  What's really at issue is a combination of ick factor and fear.

The ick factor is, I suppose, real enough, but it's hardly a serious issue.  Sure, there may be donees who'd feel uncomfortable.  Which is pretty much their problem and not a problem with the idea.  I mean, if someone needs a kidney to survive but balks at getting one from a killer?  Hey, Fuck you.  Next!

Fear is different.  If you'll excuse the expression, it cuts to the heart of the matter.  In order to kill, we dehumanize.  A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a judge who explained his life vote in a capital case:
I just couldn't look at him and say, "Fuck you."
Right.  If we can't say, aren't comfortable saying, "Fuck you," then we aren't going to be comfortable killing.  And it's hard to say "Fuck you" to someone who's trying to save lives.  

Which brings me back to Ron Phillips.  Who's trying to do a decent thing.  Which DRC won't let him do.  Because they can't work out the logistics of both letting him do something decent and getting on with the business of his murder.  And since they can't do both . . . .

They plan to kill Ron Phillips Thursday morning.

*Note to Mark Draughn: I understate.  In Ohio it's actually the offense of Aggravated Murder (as if murder isn't sufficiently aggravating all by itself).  Section 2903.01 of the Ohio Revised Code defines that offense of Aggravated Murder.  Subsection A sets out the first form (there are several forms) of the offense:
No person shall purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy.
Strapping someone down to a table, sticking needles in his arms, and pumping him full of drugs in order to cause his death is pretty clearly "purposely, and with prior calculation and design, caus[ing] the death of another." Ohio statutes authorize executions.  They do not exempt from Aggravated Murder those who carry out the killing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for explaining the murder statute. I thought it might be something like that.