State Lawmakers Propose Cutting Sentences If Inmates Donate Organs

Critics call Massachusetts bill an ethical disaster
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2023 7:25 PM CST
Massachusetts Bill Would Cut Sentences If Inmates Donate Organs
"Organ donation needs to be purely voluntary," says Danielle Allen, the director of Harvard’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics.   (Getty Images/bigjohn36)

With more than 100,000 Americans on waiting lists for transplant organs and more than 2 million inmates in American prisons, an unusual proposal in Massachusetts might be closely watched by other states. Democratic state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give inmates time off their sentences for donating organs or bone marrow, the Guardian reports. The bill states that "eligible incarcerated individuals" could get a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of 365 days off their sentences if they take part in the program, which would be overseen by a five-member committee.

State Rep. Judith Garcia said the program would "restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow." Critics, however, say the bill is an ethical "disaster" that would probably be struck down in court even if it passed the legislature. "There is a profound concern for coercion and the ability to voluntarily consent given the magnetic pull of the quid pro quo of sentence reduction," Margaret R. McLean, senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, tells Yahoo News. "I worry that this is a case of ‘selling’ organs and tissues, not for dollars but for priceless freedom."

Peter Rees, a nephrologist who evaluates potential kidney donors, tells MIT Technology Review he is "worried that someone who is incarcerated might not feel comfortable giving me a full, transparent history." Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a co-sponsor, says the bill could boost the "likelihood of Black and Latino family members and friends receiving life-saving treatment." But another co-sponsor, Rep. Russell Holmes, tells Yahoo News that while he supported the bill because there is no current pathway for inmates in Massachusetts state prisons to donate organs or blood marrow to relatives, he does not approve of the incentives included in the final version. (Read more organ donation stories.)

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