ROW MUST NOT BECOME AN ORGAN-BANK:
TO AVOID THE MAYAN PROTOCOL
Objections to organ donation from death row often
arise from bad paradigms
set by the ancient Maya Indians and the modern Chinese.
As civilization advances,
we will not simply cut out the re-usable organs of condemned prisoners.
Rather, we will apply very careful safeguards
to make certain that the donors were justly convicted and sentenced
and that they have given their full and voluntary consent
to having their organs transplanted into the bodies of strangers
after the donors have
been executed and declared dead.
CHINA SET A VERY BAD EXAMPLE: PRISON AS ORGAN FARM.
2. HATRED OF MURDERERS LEADS TO VIOLENT SUGGESTIONS.
3. ALL DOCTORS WILL DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM THE EXECUTION.
TRANSPLANT SURGEONS WILL BE FAR AWAY.
5. INFORMED, VOLUNTARY CONSENT FROM THE DONOR.
CONCLUSION: BECAUSE WE KNOW WHAT AN ORGAN FARM LOOKS LIKE,
WE CAN AVOID ALL OF ITS PROBLEMS
BY CREATING CAREFUL PROTOCOLS FOR ACCEPTING
VOLUNTARILY DONATED BY EXECUTED PRISONERS.
ROW MUST NOT BECOME AN ORGAN BANK:
TO AVOID THE MAYAN PROTOCOL
James Leonard Park
When we consider the healthy organs of prisoners on
one easy temptation is to declare that we will just take their organs
as part of the process of executing the prisoners.
Arthur Caplan has dubbed this the "Mayan Protocol".
The Maya Indians of Central America
were known to cut the beating hearts out of their captives
as a part of their religious practice.
Of course, no anesthetic was used.
And the prisoners died immediately as the result of having their hearts
The height of Maya culture was from about 250 to 900 AD.
But such practices do not belong only to the ancient
Modern China has been known to harvest organs from death-row prisoners,
even including 'criminals' who were detained because of their religious
or political beliefs.
Organ-harvesting in China probably includes
anesthetizing the prisoner
before any cutting begins for harvesting healthy organs.
And because of attention paid by the rest of the
China has taken some steps, at least officially, to make
organ-harvesting more ethical.
The selling of organs
is no longer permitted.
Prisoners are supposed to give
their consent before organs are taken.
But because China is still a very closed society,
we in the West cannot be certain of the depth of such reforms.
We can hope that China has made meaningful changes
in its former practices of taking organs for transplant.
And if China moves in the direction of adapting any of the safeguards
their organ-harvesting practices will become even more ethical.
China announced in 2012 that organ-donations from
would be phased out over the next five years.
Will China be able to replace the thousands of organs per year
that are now coming from condemned prisoners?
Organ-donation in the United States and all other
will follow careful procedures to make certain that the donors were
Then we must make absolutely certain that they are voluntarily giving their
And the donor must be completely and irrevocably dead
before anyone begins to harvest organs to transplant into waiting
1. CHINA SET A VERY BAD EXAMPLE: PRISON AS ORGAN FARM.
China does seem to be cleaning up its act with
respect to organ harvesting,
but in its worst days China used prisons as organ
We object to the old Chinese model for organ procurement
for the following reasons:
Many of the people in Chinese jails were there for
opposing the government.
In most of the rest of the world, refusing to cooperate with the
would never be an offense that would be punished by the death penalty.
Of course, there were other kinds of criminals in Chinese prisons.
But sometimes even economic crimes were punished by death.
Organs were sometimes harvested
once a buyer or
other recipient was identified as a match.
In other words, in the bad old days of 'transplant tourism',
a foreigner could arrive and be assured of a matching organ within a
day or two.
This means some
prisoner was killed to provide the needed organs.
That prisoner was kept alive until the authorities in charge
had a recipient lined up for the organs.
Then the prisoner was killed and the organs were harvested.
There was no separation of executioners and
Perhaps some prisoners were shot
before they were opened up for
harvesting their organs.
But at other times it seems that they were only anesthetized
before their organs were removed and transplanted into the waiting
This was the Mayan Protocol:
Removing of the organs was
the actual cause of death.
Informed consent was rarely meaningful.
Some prisoners might have been forced to sign 'donation' documents.
But there was no way to determine how voluntary such decisions were.
And because they were already condemned to death,
their organs could be taken in any case,
even if they gave no approval.
Often the remains of the 'criminals' were cremated
before the family could view the body,
possibly to hide the fact that organs had been taken without
At the highest point of organ-transplantation in
more than half of all organs came from prisoners.
When ordinary citizens wanted to donate their organs
they were often turned away because there was just
no easy way to accept such donations.
And the government already had enough organs
ready to be harvested in their organ-banks:
the many prisons of China.
These faults of the Chinese system
sometimes form the backdrop for discussion
of organs to be voluntarily donated by American prisoners on
Opponents rightly object to "taking" organs from prisoners,
no matter how terrible their crimes were.
But all of the faults of the very bad example
offered by China
can be corrected in a new system that allows American prisoners
(and prisoners in other advanced countries)
to donate their organs after death.
2. HATRED OF MURDERERS
TO VIOLENT SUGGESTIONS.
Some people who have given little prior thought to
the option of organ-donation
become preoccupied with the crime
that put the murderer on death row.
And their understandable negative feelings about the prisoner
stand in the way of reasonable organ-donation after execution.
This response of hatred
leads to suggesting that the condemned criminal
be taken to the operating room
to have his or her organs
removed as the means of execution.
Sometimes this Mayan Protocol would include using anesthetic.
But the method of causing death is the removal of vital organs,
rather than some other method of execution such as lethal injection,
which is now widely used as a method of causing death.
The family and friends of murder victims
might be the most inclined to inflict pain and harm on the murderer,
just as the murderer had no mercy for his or her victims.
This is a very human and understandable response.
And it is for this reason (among others)
that the state must be the
agent of execution
not any of the friends or relatives of the murder victim.
The family and friends of the murdered person will
the opportunity to be official witnesses of the execution.
And they might have a special room or viewing window
so they can be together when the murderer is put to death.
But none will be offered the opportunity to become executioners.
The judicial process that led to the sentence of
included hearing the suffering of the victim's family and friends,
but no one who suffered as the result of the murder was permitted to
serve on the jury.
The jury was chosen to eliminate any possible prejudice for or
The judge and jury heard all sides of the case,
presented with good legal advice for each side.
And they reached the best decision they could,
given all of the evidence
After the death-sentence has been properly imposed,
the prison officials who will carry out the execution
are expected to perform their duties in a professional way,
without any hatred or malice toward the condemned prisoner.
3. ALL DOCTORS WILL DISTANCE
THEMSELVES FROM THE EXECUTION.
The medical ethics of many professionals
organizations of doctors
often says that they must
not cooperate in any way with the death
But obvious exceptions are made for pronouncing death.
Only licensed physicians may complete and sign death-certificates.
Some medical information must be provided to the executioners.
But usually no doctor is
present for the actual moment of death.
After the prison officials employed to carry out the
sentence of death
have completed their work, they step back, take a deep breath,
and then invite the waiting prison doctor or some other physician
to enter the death chamber and to pronounce the prisoner dead.
Any and all doctors involved in certifying that the
prisoner has been executed
and that this prisoner is now completely and irretrievably dead
shall not be involved
in any future medical procedures on this inmate.
Explicitly, they may not be involved with any transplant teams
that might become involved in organ transplantation
after the death has been officially declared, certified, &
4. TRANSPLANT SURGEONS WILL
Any orderly process of execution followed by organ
will probably be separated by several miles of actual geography.
No organs will be harvested
in the death chamber.
The brain-dead body of the executed prisoner
will be attached to 'life-support' machinery
while it is transported several miles to the transplant center
that has agreed in advance to accept the donation
of these organs from this executed prisoner.
The brain-dead donated body will be transported in
an appropriate medical vehicle,
which is equipped to provide all the necessary supports
to make certain that the donated organs arrive in good condition.
Such careful transportation of the body of the
will be a significant improvement over the usually way
that donated organs arrive.
Because death by accident cannot be predicted in advance,
most organ-donors were not prepared or tested before their
They were accidentally killed on the highway, for example,
and if they were organ-donors,
the ambulance took their bodies to the transplant center,
where their undamaged organs were evaluated for possible transplant.
At the receiving door of the transplant center,
the brain-dead donors can all be treated alike.
However, in this case, the transplant team will know exactly
what organs will become available on the day of execution.
5. INFORMED, VOLUNTARY
FROM THE DONOR.
In contrast to the Mayan Protocol,
the death-row prisoner who agrees in advance to donate his or her
organs after execution
can prove in all reasonable and meaningful ways
that the choice to donate is completely
The donor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt
that the gift of life was an
act of utterly free will.
Another on-line essay presents the following 10
safeguards in greater detail:
That exploration of the mind of the donor is called:
"Can a Prisoner Ever Make a Free Choice?"
A. A FORMAL, RECORDED REQUEST FOR VOLUNTARY EXECUTION
When the prisoner is best able to make a wise
about donating organs after execution,
he or she (in the presence of unbiased witnesses)
makes a formal request to donate his or her organs after death.
The neutral witnesses will make certain
that there was no pressure, manipulation, or coercion.
B. TWELVE WRITTEN REQUESTS FOR VOLUNTARY EXECUTION
To make certain that these requests for donation are
they must be re-affirmed once a month for at least a year.
Someone completely independent of the prison system
must collect these written request for voluntary execution,
which will possibly be followed by organ-donation.
C. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM FAMILY MEMBERS
Family and friends who are not under any pressure
shall agree in writing that they support the choice of organ-donation
Family members must be free to say "no" in the face of any request
from the prison system or any other part of the government.
D. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY
If the prisoner has any connection with a member of
or some other such respected moral leader,
this person can also write a statement in support of the choice of
This member of the clergy must also have the unquestionable capacity
to say "no" to any request that seems inappropriate for any reason.
E. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM LAWYERS WHO HAVE
HANDLED THIS CASE
The lawyers who defended the prisoner against the
charge of murder
or the lawyers who tried to get the death-sentence reduced to life in
can also add their written statements to the pile of testimony
proving that this prisoner has made a free choice to donate his or her
organs after death.
F. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM OTHER PRISONERS
Because the organ-donor has probably talked with
about the possibility of organ transplant after execution,
other prisoners can add their written statements to the collected
And, of course, these additional written statements from other
must also be free of coercion or reward of any sort.
G. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM PRISON EMPLOYEES
Prison guards and educational and social workers
might have had occasion over the year of renewing the request
to discuss it with the prisoner.
If they also believe that it is a free choice,
let them create their own statements supporting this decision.
H. OPPORTUNITIES FOR OPPONENTS OF THE
TO TRY TO
CONVINCE THE PRISONER TO CHANGE HIS OR HER
And because there is an organized opposition to
let them also try to change the mind of the prisoner.
When they cannot convince the prisoner to abandon the plans for
let those facts also be recorded in the most appropriate ways.
I. PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS
Even if there is small likelihood of diminished
it would be more convincing to all distant doubters
if a psychological professional were to interview the
and make certain that this option of organ donation after execution
is really the full and free decision of the prisoner,
not under any undue influence from anyone, anywhere.
J. STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM ANY OTHER PERSONS
Each individual prisoner who wants to donate organs
can think of other special persons who can also create written
statements of support,
which will tend in the same direction:
This prisoner is really making a free and voluntary choice to donate
organs after death.
Additional safeguards might be especially relevant
in any particular case.
But it can be seen from this list of 10 safeguards
that several other people will be involved
in affirming the choice of
organ-donation after execution.
It would not be satisfactory in the Western world
merely to have a signed statement of consent from the prisoner.
Even if lots of witnesses testify that the prisoner voluntarily
distant skeptics will not be convinced.
All such skeptics can proposed additional safeguards:
What would convince them that the prisoner is really making a free
If the process of affirming and re-affirming
option of organ-donation after execution
is spread over at least one year
and if there are several other trustworthy persons who have discussed
this option with the inmate
and found it to be a free, wise, reasonable, & considered choice of
then even far-away doubters should be convinced that the donation was
We probably will not see such care used
but the more fully the Chinese embrace any of these 10 safeguards
the more convinced the rest of the world will be
that condemned prisoners have voluntarily agreed
to have their organs transplanted after they are finished with them.
In addition, family members and friends will not
with any execution they believe to be unjust.
Seeking their approval might be another opportunity to appeal the
6. CONCLUSION: BECAUSE
KNOW WHAT AN ORGAN FARM LOOKS LIKE,
AVOID ALL OF ITS PROBLEMS
BY CREATING CAREFUL PROTOCOLS FOR
VOLUNTARILY DONATED BY EXECUTED
The whole world can avoid the Mayan Protocol and the
practices in China
by establishing careful safeguards to make certain that prisoners on
have carefully considered all of the possible ways of disposing of
their remains after death
and they have voluntarily
chosen to donate their organs
so that other human beings might live longer
after they come to the end of their lives in the execution chamber.
When any country creates a protocol for accepting
organs from executed prisoners,
it can be linked from the bottom of this on-line essay.
The following questions should be asked:
Was the prisoner justly convinced of a crime
that most people regard as worthy of the death penalty?
How often do prisoners refuse
to donate their organs after death?
Does "no" really mean "no"?
Will their organs be buried or burned with the rest of their bodies
if they refuse to donate their organs after execution?
What fulfilled safeguards prove that the donation was voluntary?
Was the decision to execute the prisoner
completely separate from possible organ-donation?
Was the process of donation after death
completely free of manipulation or reward?
April 28,2011; Revised 5-4-2011; 5-6-2011; 5-11-2011; 10-19-2011;
James Park is an independent existential philosopher,
living and writing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Much more about him will be discovered on his website called
which now has over 1,000 rooms.
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.