Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

An Eye for an Eye

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

An Eye for an Eye

Article excerpt

An Eye for an Eye

Should condemned prisoners pay their debts to society by donating organs for transplantation upon execution? George B. Markle, IV, a surgeon in private practice in New Mexico, broached the question satirically in a recent issue of American Medical News (25 November 1988), but Michigan pathologist Jack Kevorkian is raising it quite seriously. In letters to death row inmates across the country, Kevorkian has asked them to volunteer to donate their organs for transplant upon execution, and in the meanwhile, to sign petitions in a campaign to convince lawmakers to legalize such donations. Kevorkian has addressed his letters to condemned prisoners whose requests for appeal have been denied by the U.S. Supreme Court (American Medical News, 16 December 1988).

Attorneys for many of the inmates contacted are understandably irate, some noting that despite having been denied a hearing by the Supreme Court their clients do have appeals left and it is not certain they will be executed. And many worry that making such donations possible would establish "another vested interest in capital punishment," perhaps prompting judges and juries to impose the death sentence more readily.

Physicians and members of the transplant community are equally disturbed by the medical ethical implications of Dr. Kevorkian's proposal. Although Dr. Kevorkian hasn't made clear precisely how organs would be harvested from the executed, he seems to favor lethal injection as the mode of execution. But lethal injection causes cardiopulmonary cessation, making organs unusable, notes Michael Baker, director of recovery services at the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois. To be used for transplant to needy patients, the organs of condemned criminals would have to be removed under anesthesia prior to formal execution, in effect making physicians executioners--something organ recovery physicians won't countenance. …

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