Give a kidney, do less time: State deals with organ donation ethics

Kidney cost: What's the value of receiving a donated kidney? That's the question South Carolina legislators are dealing with over a proposed law to reduce sentences of prisoners who donate their organs.
Kidney cost: What's the value of receiving a donated kidney? That's the question South Carolina legislators are dealing with over a proposed law to reduce sentences of prisoners who donate their organs.
How valuable is a donated organ?

That’s the question South Carolina legislators are grappling with as they consider a measure to give state prisoners time off from their sentences if they donate organs to needy patients. For instance, giving up a kidney could reduce a prisoner’s sentence by 180 days.

While the idea was gaining momentum in the current legislative session, lawmakers are now holding off on making a decision until they can get a ruling on federal laws regarding organ donations.

Those laws make it illegal to gain anything of “valuable consideration” for donating an organ. That generally means that people can’t be paid money for giving an organ. But is getting time off from a prison sentence “valuable consideration”?

Organ donation advocates in South Carolina see the concept as a way of saving a lot of lives and getting more needed organ donations into the pipeline.

During the run of Body Worlds at the Science Museum last year, I had many interesting conversations with visitors about organ and body donation. But this topic never came up. It strikes me that there are a lot deeper ethical questions to consider with this.

Personally, I think there’s too much self interest in donating an organ to shorten a prison sentence. The act of organ donation should be like giving a gift, with no strings attached.

What do you think? Share your comments here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is a great website

posted on Sat, 03/10/2007 - 2:52pm
Basie's picture
Basie says:

I think a prisoner's sentence should include organ donation, to give back to society..he should be locked up and his organs should be "free" so somebody else may live. If we continue to feed, house and clothe him, that is good enough compensation. I see nothing wrong in reducing his sentence from death to life in an exchange for the organ.

posted on Wed, 01/30/2008 - 6:25am
SharP's picture
SharP says:

The need for organ donation far outnumbers the supply here in Canada and the cost to imprison one offender is $70K+/year. Here prison is a short-term vacation. For example Clifford Olson (a serial child rapist, torturer and murderer was not only serving a 25 year sentence, but also was caught collecting a pension ($1,100/month) from his cell on top of the approx. $1,750,000 in taxdollars to protect the community.
Canada hasn't had a death penalty since the 1970's, but seeing grateful organ recipients in my time leads me to think this: Organ and blood donation should be the final obligate sentence for serial, violent, untreatable offenders. It saves healthcare billions a year, good citizens' lives, it helps mourning families know their loved-ones' deaths weren't in vain, the convicted families know their loved one could give back. A kidney for a shortened sentence is great policy but what about blood, bone marrow, pancreatic tissue, a lung and hair for cancer wigs? If we had a death penalty, I'd include liver, heart and both lungs. While my concerns lean toward our sick and dying, I'm an political extremist in this country for thinking innocent lives should come before life-long violent, offenders' self-entitled rights.
This stands on the heels of the sensless, brutal rape, beating, murder and burning of an innocent 18 year-old Kinberly Procter in my area.

posted on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 11:42am

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