EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES:
PERMITTED TO DONATE THEIR ORGANS AFTER EXECUTION?
OPEN LETTER TO WARDENS, GOVERNORS, & ORGAN-PROCUREMENT DOCTORS
Someone who deeply understands a rule knows
how to make exceptions.
Deep understanding requires a grasp of the
for the rule.
This open letter presents the five major reasons
now standing in the way of organ donation after execution:
1. ORGANS FROM PRISONERS ARE LIKELY TO TRANSMIT DISEASE.
ALLOWING PRISONERS TO 'DONATE' ORGANS AFTER EXECUTION
WILL LEAD TO COERCION, MANIPULATION, &
IMPROPER TAKING OF ORGANS.
MOST METHODS OF EXECUTION ALSO DESTROY THE ORGANS.
DOCTORS SHOULD NOT KILL.
5. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS EVIL—AND
IT IS BEING ABOLISHED.
LINKS FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES
by James Leonard Park
Up until now, we in the United States of America have
had firm rules
that prevent organs from being harvested from condemned murderers after
There were a number of good reasons for
But if each and every
one of these counter-indications
can be overcome in a specific instance,
then the organ-donation could go forward.
At least at first, there will be no change of the general rules.
It will not become a
general policy to remove organs from the executed.
But if the first few exceptions to the rules
prove that the reasons for the prohibition do not apply in those
then good policies for
making further exceptions could be considered.
Making a wise exception to the general rule against
is a challenging opportunity.
Let's see if each of the objections can be met one-by-one.
1. ORGANS FROM PRISONERS ARE LIKELY TO TRANSMIT DISEASE.
Organ-procurement specialists are first and foremost
for making sure that any donated organs will not harm the recipients.
Prisoner populations probably have a higher disease-rate than the
Therefore accepting organs from prisoners will probably transmit more
than using the organs of accident victims from the general population.
Normally the time-frame for organ-procurement is
The donated organs must be tested and approved right now.
Even short delays will cause the organs to deteriorate
so they cannot be brought back to life in the body of the recipient.
How to make exception to this rule against organs
donated by executed prisoners:
In the very unusual case
of a prisoner willing and able to donate
organs after execution,
the condition of the organs to be donated can be exhaustively tested
while they are still operating in the living body of the donor.
Tests can be conducted to
rule out all the common diseases of
If these specific organs are certified to be free
they will be better for transplant than random organs from the public.
We do not prohibit donations from motorcycle riders
because they as a group have a higher disease-rate than the general
Rather, when someone dies in a motorcycle crash,
the organ-procurement team checks for all likely diseases.
Based only on the verifiable condition of
these specific organs,
wise thinking can make exceptions to the rule against organs from
because of the fear of transmitting disease.
The rates of various diseases in prison-populations
can be studied.
Careful investigation will discover which prisoners do not have these diseases.
And particular organs offered for donation after death
can be certified to be healthy
Because we have as much time for medical testing as
the actual function
of the organs to be donated can be measured
while they are still operating within the body of the donor.
This will be a new experience for the organ-procurement team,
since they are usually not
called until after the donor is dead.
Some of the organs might have been damaged by the
life-style of the prisoner.
Drug and alcohol abuse might have rendered some organs useless for
But medical science has ways of testing the functions of every organ of
the human body.
Only body parts certified to be working well
and free of disease
will be considered for transplant.
2. ALLOWING PRISONERS TO
'DONATE' ORGANS AFTER EXECUTION
WILL LEAD TO COERCION,
MANIPULATION, & IMPROPER
TAKING OF ORGANS.
The widely-reported taking of organs from executed
prisoners in China
has created a very bad image in the minds of many who consider
the possibility of American prisoners 'donating' their organs after
We prevent prisoners from making many decisions for themselves
simply because the fact of
being in prison makes most of their
Whenever we hear that prisoners in other countries
'voluntarily donated' their organs after execution,
we have doubts in our own minds about the voluntariness of any such
How do we know that these prisoners were not manipulated or coerced?
Since we are rightly skeptical of 'donations' from
prisoners in less developed countries,
how can we expect U.S. prisoners to be any more free?
If an American prisoner has freely and voluntarily
his or her wish to donate organs after execution,
this can be verified by multiple methods involving many outside
At least one year should be devoted
to the process of discovering the
sett;ed wishes of the prisoner.
Some possible methods of verification are described here:
"Can a Prisoner Ever Make a Free Choice?"
most of these ten safeguards have been fulfilled,
we can be fairly certain that this particular donation is voluntary,
but we should resist the tendency to let the safeguards slide
for subsequent organ-donations from executed prisoners.
Carefully following the defined guidelines for making exceptions
will mean that coercion, manipulation, & fraud
are explicitly ruled-out for each and every organ-donation after
Even distant doubters must be convinced
that the prisoner in each case has genuinely made a free choice.
3. MOST METHODS OF
DESTROY THE ORGANS.
When execution of condemned prisoners was achieve
by poison gas or electrocution,
then the organs of the executed person
were also made hopelessly useless for transplantation.
These methods of execution were chosen specifically because
they cause sure and certain
death within a few minutes.
Beheading and firing squad caused instant death.
When methods of execution were decided by the state
they never considered
the possibility that the executed prisoner
might want to donate his or her organs after execution.
But, as it happens, one method of lethal injection
might be a good way to
achieve brain-death without harming organs.
And if this drug is not as ideal as another lethal chemical,
then the law could be changed or an exception could be made
so that everyone would be certain that the prisoner has really been
But in addition, his or her organs
are still suitable for transplant.
Once we have decided to consider exceptions
that will permit organ donation after execution,
then willing medical experts can confer
to decide the very best method to make absolutely certain
that the prisoner has really
he or she is completely and irrevocably dead—
that the organs to be donated were not harmed in the process of
Further discussion of this useful exception will be
"Brain-Death Protocol for Voluntary Execution followed by Organ
organ-procurement specialists decide to consider this exception
to the general rule that executed prisoners may not donate their
they will think very carefully about the best methods for protecting the
so that they can be transplanted without problems for the recipients.
Wise advance planning can make certain that this brain-dead donor
has better organs
than most other donors that come to the transplant
4. DOCTORS SHOULD NOT KILL.
Various medical societies and other organizations
have established policies that (in their strict enforcement)
would prevent doctors even from consulting about methods of execution.
But we know that doctors have the exclusive power to
Therefore, a few doctors have always been involved with executions.
These are doctors either employed by the prison system
or other doctors who have consented to make an exception
to the general rule that they should not cooperate
with any process
that brings death.
Organ-procurement doctors who offer their expertise
will do so completely voluntarily—not
under any coercion.
And we would not need any elaborate proof
that such doctors are making a free choice
to cooperate in such a new
Perhaps most organ-procurement specialists will choose never to
But they should not attempt to prevent other doctors from
The greater good of saving several lives
should overbalance any general rules about not cooperating in
Transplant surgeons know in their own hands
how lives can be saved by harvesting and transplanting human organs.
Every day they save the lives of actual patients they know.
At least some of these doctors who save lives
will be able to overcome their ethical quams about the source
of the organs.
Cooperating doctors will not
But they will advise about the best methods for achieving death
while doing the least
possible harm to the organs to be donated.
And if several lives are saved that would
otherwise be lost,
the general public will side with the doctors who made exceptions
to the general rules about not even advising the state about methods of
And fellow doctors will not condemn the first transplant doctors who
for their willingness to go beyond the old practices
because of the greater good achieved by the organs harvested.
When we line up the smiling pictures of the living
who would be dead except for these donated organs,
transplant surgeons will know that they were wise to make these
The transplant-team did not kill anyone.
That decision was made by the judicial process of the state or country.
But the transplant center wisely made exception to its general rule
against organs from executed prisoners.
Both the donors and the doctors made a completely free choice.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS EVIL—AND
IT IS BEING ABOLISHED.
Executing prisoners for their capital crimes is a
practice surrounded by controversy.
Where death is still a possible punishment for the worst crimes,
this penalty is not applied equally to all who commit those crimes.
Also, some people executed were later proved to be innocent.
For these and other reasons, the practice of putting criminals to death
has slowly been disappearing from the planet Earth.
And even where the death-penalty is still in use in
the Western world,
the process of automatic appeals and other delays
often means that condemned prisoners spend many years on death row.
Therefore, since the pool of prisoners waiting to be
executed is likely to shrink,
there will be fewer prisoners who might consider donating their organs
Even in jurisdictions where the death-penalty is
still in use,
many people (including organ-procurement specialists and transplant
do not agree with this method for punishing capital crimes.
Therefore, even if a prisoner on death row
volunteers to donate organs after execution,
some professionals involved in organ-transplantation understandably
refuse to participate.
And it is certainly consistent for opponents of the death penalty
to distance themselves from any cooperation in a practice they consider
These valid reasons for rejecting organ donation
can be protected by the following safeguards.
First, the prisoner on death row must confess
that he or she did commit
the crime (such as murder in the first degree)
for which the death-penalty has been correctly and fairly imposed.
This should remove any worry that an innocent person might be
This fact of guilt should be acknowledged at least 12 times
over a period of at least one year.
And at the same time, the prisoner can reaffirm his or her decision
to donate all useable organs after execution.
Open confessions and several other safeguards
to make sure that the execution and
are completely voluntary are discussed in the following essay:
a Prisoner Ever Make a Free Choice?"
The fact that
capital punishment might be abolished in coming decades
means that there will be fewer and fewer prisoners waiting on death
Thus, we should not consider organ-donation
from such a small and diminishing pool of potential donors.
It is just not worth the controversy
to allow prisoners on death row to donate their organs after execution.
A surprising reply to this objection is that execution could become voluntary.
Instead of imposing the
death penalty after guilt has been established,
some jurisdictions might impose life-imprisonment
with the option of voluntary
execution after at least one year in prison.
Each capital felon would choose his or her own date of execution.
-—or choose to remain in prison for the rest
of his or her natural life.
Also, other prisoners who are sentenced to spend the
rest of their lives behind bars
might be given the option of
choosing a voluntary execution
(perhaps followed by organ donation)
instead of waiting for natural death in prison.
Even if less than one in a thousand prisoners
serving life-sentences without the possibility of parole
were to consider voluntary
execution instead of natural
this would increase the potential pool of willing organ-donors.
And each jurisdiction that abolishes
the death penalty
might consider offering the option of voluntary execution.
This possibility is
explored in detail in the
following on-line essay:
"Voluntary Execution: Better than
A few 'lifers' might decide to make their
deaths in prison more meaningful
by opting for voluntary execution near the natural end of their lives
so that they can donate their viable organs to strangers
who will otherwise die because their own organs are failing.
The death-penalty might be abolished,
but thousands of prisoners will still die each year in prisons.
When prisoners die of natural causes (or from prison violence or
they are permitted to
donate their usable organs.
Why should we discriminate against inmates who will die by execution?
Why not permit all willing
prisoners to donate their organs after
6. LINKS FOR FURTHER
Since you have read this far,
you might be one of the wardens, governors, or organ-procurement doctors
who will lead the way toward the very first organ donation from an
If you are at least somewhat inclined in the
here are some additional links that you or other colleagues
might find useful in supporting your case for making exceptions
to the general rules preventing organ-donation from prisoners:
Portal for ORGAN DONATION AFTER EXECUTION
This portal will attempt to keep current with all websites
that support the freedom of prisoners
voluntarily to donate their organs after execution.
PRISONER ORGAN DONATION
This is the name of a Facebook Page devoted to winning the right
for willing prisoners to donate their organs.
Like-minded persons from every walk of life
are welcome to join this Facebook community.
BRAIN-DEATH AS A METHOD OF VOLUNTARY EXECUTION
This essay suggests that brain-death would satisfy the requirement of
while at the same time preserving some organs for transplant.
BRAIN-DEATH PROTOCOL FOR VOLUNTARY EXECUTION FOLLOWED BY ORGAN DONATION
This essay outlines the likely steps needed
to achieve an execution by means of brain-death
so that the execution can be coordinated with organ-donation after
THE DEAD-DONOR RULE: HOW DEAD DO YOU HAVE TO BE?
A prisoner facing execution will only be permitted to donate organs
if the public is completely convinced that the inmate was absolutely
before any organs were harvested.
If you know of others who are thinking along these
please invite them to visit the article you are reading:
Making Exceptions to the Rules:
We already have one
prisoner ready and willing to donate organs after
Who will be the first warden, governor, or transplant doctor
willing to make the necessary exceptions?
If any professional journals would be open to such
please suggest them
either by sending this article to the editor of the journal
or writing to the author:
James Park: e-mail: PARKx032@UMN.EDU.
James Leonard Park is an existential philosopher and
living and writing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
His interest in prisoner organ donation
is part of his larger interest in the right-to-die with careful
Much more will be learned about him on his website:
Philosopher's Museum has more than 1,000 rooms.
August 5, 2010; Revised 8-6-2010; 8-7-2010; 8-27-2010; 9-30-2010;
2-4-2011; 3-3-2011; 4-15-2011; 4-22-2011; 12-10-2011; 4-21-2012;