The New York Times recently ran an op-ed entitled “Giving Life After Death Row,” written by Christian Longo, a man sentenced to die by the State of Oregon for killing his wife and three children eight years ago. He wrote that once his efforts to convince the world of his innocence failed and the “enormity of what I did seeped in, ” remorse―and then a wish to make amends in any way he could―followed.
Longo wrote, “There is no way to atone for my crimes, but I believe that a profound benefit to society can come from my circumstances.”
He announced that he wanted to donate his organs following his execution and has founded an organization called Gifts of Anatomical Value From Everyone to accomplish his goal. He has discussed this issue with the 35 other men on Oregon’s Death Row and states that half of them “expressed a wish to have the option of donating should their appeals run out.”
However, I take exception to his proposal.
Of course this story resonates. After all, it deals with life, death and the chance that a good number of the 110,000 Americans on organ waiting lists (according to the United Network for Organ Sharing) could have a new lease on life. Longo writes that approximately 19 of them die each day while waiting for transplants, and argues that if his idea takes hold, the more than 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S. could “each save up to eight lives by donating a healthy heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and other transplantable tissues.”
However, there are huge problems and drawbacks to what can only be characterized as a noble desire to get some good from evil. While there are no laws barring the condemned in the U.S. from donating their organs, no state department of education allows it.
Longo recognizes the problem. “The main explanation is that Oregon and most other states use a sequence of three drugs for lethal injections that damages the organs,” he wrote in the article. “But Ohio and Washington use a larger dose of just one drug, a fast-acting barbiturate that doesn’t destroy organs. If states would switch to a one-drug regimen, inmates’ organs could be saved.”
Another, less legitimate concern, according to Longo, is that organs of prisoners may be tainted by infections, H.I.V. or hepatitis, but he notes that issue can easily be addressed by blood testing.
Of course, America’s long and shameful history of using prisoners for medical experiments perhaps also contributes to the reluctance by state officials; some also argue that condemned prisoners “are simply unable to make a truly voluntary consent,” as Longo writes.
But, in spite of my sincere sympathy for those in need of an organ transplant, I have a greater concern: If this unquestionable good is allowed to be done, if this life-saving is allowed to come out of death, tt will only lead to more death.
Capital punishment will come to be more easily viewed — rationalized away — as “something not so bad.”
No. No matter how many lives can be saved, state-sanctioned killing is, and will always be, a barbaric practice ... something inherently bad.
Mansfield Frazier is a native Clevelander who serves as the executive director of Neighborhood Solutions, Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on myriad issues of importance to the urban community. A published author, he served as editor at a number of Cleveland weeklies before semi-retiring and changing over to Internet journalism in 2005. His column can currently be seen weekly on CoolCleveland.com and The Cleveland Leader. He also occasionally contributes to The Daily Beast. Frazier is the co-publisher of Reentry Advocate, a magazine that currently goes into all Ohio prisons, select prisons in the State of Michigan, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons