Exchanging organs for freedom

Physicians and nurses at work in a surgical suite. (Carol Highsmith /Library of Congress)

By Ally P., Red Phoenix international correspondent.

In Massachusetts, prisoners may soon be able to donate their bone marrow and organs in exchange for a reduction of prison time. Democratic Senators from Massachusetts, Carlos Gonzalez and Judith A. Garcia, have proposed House Bill 3822 which would arrange such a scheme.

In simple terms, if an inmate donates bone marrow or an organ, they can receive between 60 days and one year off their sentence. Indeed, on the surface, as so many people consider prison as a means of “paying one’s debt to society,” would not saving the life of a stranger be a great way to give back to society? It would seem to address both the often-excessive sentences and the significant lack of available organs. The US Health Resources and Services Administration notes that 105,800 people are on the transplant waiting list, many of whom specifically require kidneys, and that 17 people die each day waiting for vital organs. If you don’t read into it, it seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Americans’ experiences with the judicial system are often heavily dependent on income, race, and disability. Many people cannot afford to hire a lawyer, particularly people of color and the disabled. Hispanic men are incarcerated at twice the rate of white men, and Black men at seven times the rate of white men. Disabled people make up two-fifths to two-thirds of the prison population and are thus incarcerated at two and a half to four times the rate of the general population. Additionally, 95% of felony convictions are not obtained by means of a trial, but through a plea deal. Innocent people plead guilty to crimes often; 18% of of known exonerees pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit. Fighting for one’s freedom is costly and there is a risk, especially for the working class, that you could end up with a much lengthier sentence. In addition 65% of known exonerees were people of color, and given the relative wealth disparity between people of color and white people, as well as people of color receiving longer sentences for similar crimes, this statistic should not be surprising.

This bill exploits working people – particularly people of color and disabled people – who are in desperate circumstances, offering for them to give up their organs in exchange for their freedom. It is frankly barbaric. So, I ask then, would you give up a kidney for a year of freedom, a year sooner with your family, a year sooner to see your spouse and kids? I would, and I imagine so would many others in such a precarious situation.

The real question of the matter is, what is to be done to address these situations? On the prison front, it is unlikely that prison abolition can occur under capitalism. However, the abolition of private prisons in conjunction with community control of police, as advocated for by the American Party of Labor, would greatly improve these circumstances. In terms of organ donation, it is difficult to imagine any sort of reward which could be applied for such donation under capitalism that would not be highly exploitative. Indeed, the US federal government recognizes this and has made it illegal to buy or sell organs. What can be done, at least as a start, is to create a system in which organ donation registration is the default which people can willingly opt-out of, rather than the opt-in system that we have now. Many countries do this already, and in the US roughly 90% of adults support organ donation, yet only 60% are registered as donors. This minor change would significantly increase the availability of organs and would be a very basic and practical first step in solving this long and complicated problem.

Categories: U.S. News

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