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US death row inmate’s wish to donate kidney,heart sparks debate on ethics

Phillips,40,wants to give relatives a kidney before he is put to death and his heart afterward.

An eleventh-hour request by a death row inmate to donate his organs is raising troubling moral and medical questions among transplant experts and ethicists.

Less than a day before child killer Ronald Phillips was set to die by lethal injection,Republican Gov John Kasich on Wednesday postponed the execution to look into Phillips’ request.

Phillips,40,wants to give relatives a kidney before he is put to death and his heart afterward.

“I realise this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio,’’ Kasich said in a statement,“but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues,then we should allow for that to happen.’’

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Some medical experts and others warn that execution chemicals could render organs unusable. They are also deeply disturbed by the prospect of death row inmates donating organs,even if can ease shortages so severe that patients die while on the waiting list. They question whether the condemned can freely give consent,or are desperately hoping to win clemency. They worry that such practices would make judges and juries more likely to hand out death sentences. And they are troubled by the notion of using inmates for spare parts.

Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan of New York University said organ donation is incompatible with the goals of punishment.

“It’s unethical because this guy who’s being executed raped and killed a 3-year-old. When you donate your organs,there’s a kind of redemption,’’ Caplan said. “Punishment and organ donation don’t go well together. I don’t think the kinds of people we’re executing we want to make in any way heroic.’’


Dr Brooks Edwards,the director of the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center and a transplant cardiologist,said it would be possible to use some organs after an execution,including the liver and kidney,but not the heart.

Even so,he said he is opposed to the idea,saying it could lead a judge or jury to believe that handing down a death sentence could help save another’s life.

“One would worry that the enticement of organ donation could somehow be perceived,even subconsciously,as some kind of perverse incentive. I think that’s wrong,’’ Edwards said. “There are certainly accusations of prisoners being executed in other countries for organ donation,and we have to be well above that.’’

First published on: 16-11-2013 at 02:36:02 am
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