BOSTON (USA) Feb. 9 (AP) — A proposal to have Massachusetts inmates donate their organs and bone marrow to shorten their sentences raises profound ethical and legal questions about putting undue pressure on inmates desperate for freedom.
The bill – which faces a steep climb in the Massachusetts state capitol – could run afoul of federal law that prohibits the sale or acquisition of human organs for a “valuable price.”
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It also raises the question of whether and how prisons can properly look after the health of inmates who give up their organs at the knife. Critics have called the idea coercive and dehumanizing, though one of the bill’s sponsors has described the measure as a response to the overincarceration of Hispanics and Blacks and the need to match donors in those communities.
“The bill reads like something out of a dystopian novel,” said Kevin Lim, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimum Standards, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform advocacy group. “Advocating organ donation is a good thing, and reducing excessive prison sentences is also a good thing. It is counterintuitive to tie the two together.”
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The bill would create a bone marrow and organ donation program within the state Department of Corrections that would allow incarcerated people to reduce their sentences from 60 days to a year if they donate bone marrow or organs.
State Rep. Judith Garcia, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said it was introduced in response to what she called a health inequity that stems from “imposition on black and brown people.” A vicious cycle of unjust incarceration and over-regulation in the community”.
Black and Hispanic communities are at higher risk for health conditions that may require organ donation, while discriminatory incarceration rates exclude many possible donor matches from the pool, resulting in African-American waiting lists that are more severe than whites, she added. long.
To be sure, the need for life-saving organs is enormous: More than 4,600 people in Massachusetts — and nearly 1,06,000 in the United States — are waiting for an organ transplant.
About 28 percent of people in Massachusetts identify as black, Hispanic or Latino, according to data collected by the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.
But critics say the measure was mishandled.
George Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights at the Boston University School of Public Health, said exchanging reduced sentences for organs is not only immoral but also a violation of federal law. He said the reduced sentence amounted to a payment.
“You can’t buy organs. That should end the discussion,” Anas said. “It’s compensation for service. Don’t we exploit prisoners enough?”
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Mass., defended the proposal, calling it a voluntary program. He also said he was open to a policy that would allow inmates to donate their organs and bone marrow without commuting their sentences. Massachusetts currently has no law banning organ donation from prisoners, he said.
“It’s not a quid pro quo. We’re willing to have policy without incentives,” Gonzalez said, adding that “respecting prisoners’ human dignity and agency by respecting their choice to donate bone marrow or organs is critical .”
Both Garcia and Gonzalez are members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
In 2007, South Carolina also tried to offer prisoners reduced sentences in exchange for donated organs. After criticism of the proposal, the state turned to a voluntary tissue and organ donation program for prisoners, without offering any reduced sentences in exchange. Federal prisoners can donate organs, but only if the recipient is a family member of the prisoner.
The Massachusetts bill would set up a commission to decide how much bone marrow and organs must be donated to get a reduced sentence. The bill would set a maximum “reduction of sentence not to exceed 365 days” for any prisoner participating in the program.
The CSD will be prohibited from accepting any money for bone marrow donations.
The bill appears to face unlikely odds at the state capitol. It has only a handful of supporters for the legislation, with Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano expressing skepticism this week.
“It’s an extreme way to get your sentence reduced,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes sense.” (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)