Death Row Organ Banks

Posted on March 17, 2011


Author: Stan Moody

On January 27, 2011, I published an article on a logjam of executions. Due to shortages of Sodium Thiopental, a sedative critical to lethal injections, states have been left scrambling to return to their killing schedules under the threat of litigation.

Not only are there pro-death groups and anti-death groups, both with lobbyists, but there are neutral-death penalty groups as well. Neutral-death penalty groups are dedicated to providing information on the death penalty with no preference one way or the other.

All three are threatening action.

The manufacturer of the sedative, Hospira of Lake Forest, IL, had to cease production because of a shortage of raw material. They had intended to switch to an Italian alternative, but the manufacturer insisted that the drug could not be used in executions, by order of the Italian government.

It appears that I got only half the story.

The other half of the story I received from my good friend, Mansfield Frazier, publisher of Reentry Advocate of Cleveland, OH. It has to do with executions turning into a production line for organ donations.

Keying off a New York Times editorial, “Giving life after death row,” Frazier wrote that, while organ donations represent an honorable means of doing good by a life gone bad, there are questions concerning damage inflicted by the injections. Ohio and Oklahoma have switched to the anesthetic Pentobarbital, which, according to one source, does not destroy organs.

There is, as well, the matter of potential liability from organs of prisoners that may be infected from such diseases as H.I.V or hepatitis, although it would seem that a simple blood test given prior to execution could lay that fear to rest.

This debate over how efficiently to kill other human beings and what or what not to harvest may be the closest we have come to date to support the argument that pro life advocates are inconsistent in wanting to outlaw government support for adult stem cell research while pushing for the death penalty.

On the one hand, stem cell research promises potential cures for certain diseases and hope for growing replacement organs. On the other hand, to create a structured organ donor bank from convicted capital criminals might not only encourage more executions but might play a hand in who gets executed and when. That demand for a heart or liver could be the limiting factor in someone’s constitutional rights is a rather bizarre thought.

It is difficult for the layperson to differentiate clinically between prolonging life through stem cells and prolonging life through harvested organs. Both offer hopeful ends. Yet, the very ethical dilemma posed by pro-life advocates against funding for adult stem cell research pales into insignificance when compared with capital punishment organ banks.

I closed my article on the backup on death row with this strange twist: “States and pro-death advocates are wringing their hands over delays in carrying out this grizzly procedure, while private industry and foreign countries restrain on moral grounds the sale of chemicals for use in lethal injections.”

Frazier closes his article with, “Despite my sincere sympathy for those in need of an organ transplant, if this unquestionable good is allowed to be done; if this life-saving is allowed to come out of death, it will only lead to more death as capital punishment is rationalized away as ‘something not so bad’.”

The shame of our capital punishment laws honored by 35 states has been obscured by focus on the efficiency of carrying out executions and now, perhaps, by the greater good of saving a life. We are an angry, volatile nation that dispatches justice with the same detached, production-line efficiency exhibited in the business of war. Meanwhile, those seemingly most eager to meter the death penalty are pro-life Christians badly in need of heart circumcision.

May God have mercy on America!