Thursday, March 15, 2007

Leave It to South Carolina

From the state that brought us the nullification crisis of 1832, secession in 1860, the Dixiecrat movement of 1948, and the rabid segregationist Strom Thurmond comes the next stellar idea to embarass American democracy! That's right, dear readers, South Carolina is at it again, but this time, they are going for the body organs of prisoners.

You have not misread that sentence. The South Carolina Senate is now considering a set of 3 bills, which you can read here, here, and here. For the mere cost of a kidney or bone marrow, a prisoner could have six months of his or her sentence reduced. The bill that made it out of a SC Senate committee would allow the Department of Corrections to decide which inmates could donate. Presumably, they would have to clear the inmate of common prison health problems such as TB, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Of course, participation would be entirely "voluntary". "Voluntary" in the sense that perhaps the only thing standing between you and early freedom is giving up your kidney or some bone marrow. "Voluntary" in the sense that the prison environment is not based on coersion at all.
“We would check that this was voluntary and they had all the information. It would not be forced upon them,” said State Senator Ralph Anderson, who came up with this gem of an idea.

According to the LA Times (warning, must register to see the article), the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network estimates that, nationally, over 95,300 people are awaiting an organ transplant and that about 6,700 die annually while waiting. Of course, there are rigorous standards for donating an organ, and it is unclear whether a state prisoner could meet those requirements, given the condition of prisons today, and the activities (rapes being one) that go on inside.

Some credit does go to the South Carolina legislature, though. While in the past, they have been little concerned with the legality of their actions, this time, the South Carolina legislators are examining whether the proposal violates federal law which prohibits the exchange of organs for “valuable consideration.” Ah, the fly in the ointment. Anderson, of course, argues that personal freedom in the form of a reduced sentence is not "valuable consideration", probably because you cannot place a dollar value on it. That is the point, though. Freedom is completely invaluable. Over the centuries, millions of men and women have willingly died in defence of freedom. To wave an early ticket out of prison in exchange for an ORGAN is certainly "valuable consideration." Even if the federal government would give the OK for this scheme, it has to be argued that it violates medical ethics. When a proposal such as this one gives you an immediate feeling of being "dirty", that is a pretty good sign that it is grossly unethical.

South Carolina is on the way to passing this bill. Will someone with some sense stop them before they embarass themselves (and the United States) yet again?

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