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Law Would Permit Prisoners to Donate Organs to Reduce Sentences

In this file photo, the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center is surrounded by fencing, Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Lancaster, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
Law Would Permit Prisoners to Donate Organs to Reduce Sentences
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A proposed law in the U.S. state of Massachusetts would permit prisoners to donate their organs to shorten their prison terms.

The proposal faces intense opposition in the Massachusetts legislature. Experts also say the measure could conflict with a federal law that bans the sale or transfer of human organs for “valuable consideration.”

The measure has raised questions about whether prisons would be able to effectively care for the health of organ donors.

Critics call the idea dehumanizing. They also argue that such a law could create pressure on prisoners to donate organs.

Supporters of the bill have suggested it could help feel a need for organ donors in Black and Hispanic communities. Their reasoning is linked to over-jailing rates for those minorities in U.S. prisons.

Kevin Ring is the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform group. He told The Associated Press that supporting organ donation and reducing some prison sentences is good. But he added, “Tying the two together is perverse.”

The bill would create a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program within the Massachusetts state Department of Correction. The program would permit prisoners to receive a reduction in their sentence of between 60 days to a year if they have donated bone marrow or organs.

Judith Garcia is a Massachusetts state lawmaker and one of the bill’s sponsors. She told the Associated Press that the measure was created to deal with health inequalities. She said such inequalities are linked to, in her words, “the vicious cycle of unjust incarceration and over-policing of Black and Brown communities.”

Garcia said Black and Hispanic communities are at higher risk for health conditions that might require organ donation. In addition, discriminatory incarceration rates reduce the number of available donors that could serve minority communities, she said.

Currently, the need for life-saving organs is great: There are more than 4,600 individuals in Massachusetts – and almost 106,000 people in the U.S. – waiting for organ transplants. About 28 percent of those in Massachusetts identify as Black, Hispanic or Latino, organ donation data shows.

But critics say the proposed law tries to deal with the problem in the wrong way.

George Annas directs the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University’s School of Public Health. He said offering reduced sentences in exchange for organs is not only unethical, but also violates federal law.

“You can’t buy an organ. That should end the discussion,” Annas said.

Massachusetts state lawmaker Carlos Gonzalez is another co-sponsor of the bill. He defended the proposal, noting that the donor program would be voluntary. He also said he is open to establishing a policy that would permit prisoners to donate organs and bone marrow without the promise of a reduced sentence. Gonzalez noted that there is currently no law against prisoner organ donation in Massachusetts.

“It’s not quid pro quo. We are open to setting policy without incentives,” Gonzalez said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

transfer – v. to move someone or something from one place to another

perverse – adj. not in keeping with expected or accepted norms

vicious cycle – n. a situation in which one problem causes another problem, which then makes the first problem worse

incarcerate – v. to jail

unethical – adj. morally bad

quid pro quo – n. something given to a person in return for something they have done

incentive – n. something that persuades a person to do something


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