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May 1, 2015

"How a Death Row Inmate's Request to Give His Organs Kept Him Alive"

Download (1)The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy Newsweek article discussing the array of remarkable developments that have surrounded the application of the death penalty in Ohio over the last few years.  Here are excerpts which provide a unique spin on the saying that it's always better to give than to receive: 

On November 13, 2013, prison officials transferred Ronald Ray Phillips from death row, where he had resided for 20 years, to the “death house” in southern Ohio. He had finally run out of appeals. In less than 24 hours, they would strap him to a gurney and inject a fatal drug combination into his veins. Just days before his scheduled death, however, Phillips made an unprecedented request—one that has kept him alive until today. He asked to give his heart to his sister, who had a heart condition, and his kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis....

In the fall of 2013, Ohio had just instituted a new lethal injection protocol as its primary method of execution, and its effects were uncertain. The fatal drug cocktail might destroy Phillips’s organs. On the other hand, if Phillips went to the operating room beforehand and doctors removed his heart while he was unconscious, they could save it. But since he couldn’t survive without his heart, they would simultaneously complete the execution in a novel method that had never been considered in Ohio’s capital punishment laws.

Phillips was scheduled to die at 10 the next morning. Just before 4 p.m., as prison employees headed home for the evening, the death house received a call from the governor. “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen,” Republican Governor John Kasich said in a statement to the press hours before the scheduled execution. Kasich granted Phillips a reprieve, removing him—temporarily, at least—from the death house....

But the agencies that govern transplantation refused his organs, calling the idea “morally reprehensible.” Parceling out the organs to strangers could be a human rights violation. Because Phillips was a prisoner, he couldn’t voluntarily consent to these procedures. The idea of saving “innocent” lives could also incentivize prosecutors and judges to favor the death penalty. Ohio denied Phillips’s request to donate non-vital organs to strangers.

Yet [a former attorney for the mother of Phillips' victim] counters, “Why doesn’t an inmate have a right to donate his or her kidney? Why is that seen as one of the rights that they’ve given up because they’re incarcerated?”...

Because of Phillips’s reprieve, convicted killer Dennis McGuire took his place. Reporter Alan Johnson witnessed McGuire’s execution. Approximately six minutes into it, McGuire “suddenly starts gasping—deep gasps. His chest would compress, his stomach started going out," Johnson says....

The McGuire fiasco prompted a federal judge to temporarily halt all Ohio executions. Nevertheless, Arizona used Ohio’s protocol that summer to execute Joseph Wood. The execution lasted over two hours, with Wood gasping 640 times. It provoked another moratorium on the death cocktail.

In January 2015, before Phillips’s fourth execution date, Ohio rescinded its controversial mixture, announcing a return to the pentobarbital drug class. Because Ohio has been unable to obtain this drug from Lundbeck, executions will resume in 2016 at the earliest. Phillips’s fifth execution date remains unscheduled.

Phillips’s unprecedented request set off a chain of events that have kept him alive till today. For over a year, he’s been next up on Ohio’s list of scheduled executions. But he’s ridden the wave of botched executions and may transition from a temporary reprieve to a permanent one. Phillips and his attorneys declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

May 1, 2015 at 08:28 AM | Permalink


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That would require he be executed in an operating room. The body cannot be driven long distances have the most valuable organs preserved. He would have to be tested while alive to match him to recipients.

The totally pro-criminal, left wing extremists running professional societies, accrediting agencies, and licensing boards would all come out with hammer and tongs to destroy participant. These are more pro-criminal than lawyers.

Legislation immunizing all participants, including patient organ recipients would have to be enacted. Because these misguided big government, pro-criminal, rent seekers are killing people by their intimidation and persecution of health professionals and hospitals, criminal sanctions are appropriate.

Current transplantable organs include: heart, lung,heart-lung, kidney, liver, pancreas, intestine, face, cornea, skin, bone marrow, blood, hands, leg, penis, bone, uterus, thymus, islets of Langerhans, heart valve, ovary.

That would insure that many families would turn up at his funeral, grieve over him, and sing his praises, rather than spit on his grave.

This idea rockets the utilitarian calculation of the death penalty into another orbit.

You know a nuclear war of policy attacks would break out if such legislation were to be introduced. Those attacks by abolitionists would reveal the hypocrisy of the abolitionist. it is not interested in saving lives. It is interested in generating massive government make work jobs for lawyers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 1, 2015 10:50:25 AM

A quirky situation that resulted in a delay that helped him in the long run.

I think the arguments are complicated here but understand the concern with the reduced ability of inmates to truly consent here & the troubling incentives it might encourage. A sentenced murderer has less rights to bodily autonomy, including to do so when it would negatively affect overall medical ethics.

This is a bit cruel of me to say, I guess, but maybe if he wanted his family members to get his organs, he should have committed suicide in his cell. He's not obligated to do that, of course, but nor is the state obligated to change the rules for him here.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2015 11:29:40 AM

Joe and other abolitionists need to visit recipients for 5 minutes, people short of breath lifting their heads off a pillow. They will die at 45, leaving family and career because they caught a virus that destroyed their hearts.

These heartless rent seekers and PC inhuman, provisional rent seekers are not even human beings them selves. They are selfish animals.

Direct action groups of families of crime victims and of transplant recipients should call on them with the lash.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 1, 2015 4:29:35 PM

I don't get current policy, would a victim or victim's family be happy if the murderer decided to compromise with consent of losing a limb so he is unlikely to commit a crime again. Most folks would rather die than spend the rest of their life rotting away in prison.

Life in prison or the death penalty in many instances is not economically beneficial to society, especially for less serious offenses, individuals do not contribute to society, the cost is high to maintain them, it takes someone out of the labor force who can be productive and folks who were innocent have lost time and money defending themselves and staying years in prison.

Given the shortage of organs needed for transplants, I say the victims can't always have what they want if the current policy of LWOP or DP is not beneficial to society as a whole. Sure I am in favor of individual rights vs. the state, but let's say your family member was dying and needed a transplant what do do, or rather think of yourself stranded on an island and imprisoning someone would cause harm to the rest of the group and society.

Of course then would DP cases accelerate to get organs, would it participating in medical trials as beneficial to society to get out o LWOP or DP, I think after decades in prison, it should be allowed, to SC -LWOP wasn't common or even around that often before the temporary abolition of DP in the 1970s.

I don't get the fuss over DP v. LWOP, to me the former is a better option rather than rot in prison and to society for keeping and spending money for decades on a person's health who isn't contributing to society, the latter probably meets the 8th amendment cruel and unusual punishment, LWOP is cruel and also unusual meeting the standard. LWOP doesn't really get much attention in habeus corpus and other procedures, advocates for LWOP folks have criticized DP abolitions with changing the debate as many LWOP cases don't even involve serious crimes or rather serious enough to merit it.

Posted by: alex | May 2, 2015 5:48:33 AM

The cost of keeping a person in prison vs. the costs of the extra effort taken in death penalty cases because in this country people are very wary about the government taking people's lives, even when the people are convicted murderers, make the cost issue iffy. Likewise, the death penalty involves the state killing people in an arbitrary and capricious ways, including by mistake in some cases ["mistake" includes those who are not guilty enough to warrant the punishment]. Or, killing alone -- unless detention is not allowed, by definition, LWOP won't be in itself the same as the death penalty.

As to LWOP being "cruel," I find that proves too much. Why stop there? Is it really much less "cruel" to leave people in prison for decades, at times when the end of the term will either come before the person dies or is just a shell, and there for crimes less than murder? Also, general population in some states is not as safe. Of course, if it is so bad, yes, more effort should be made to protect those sentenced. But, since we aren't killing them, it just won't be as much as for the death penalty. "Life" comes before "liberty" which comes before "property" for a reason.

And, the person need not "rot" in prison or not in some way "contribute" to society. Other nations find ways to make life in prison more humane in that respect. The limited number of prisoners affected by the organ transplant situation also makes this basically a footnote to that issue. At best, that might suggest we should use the firing squad to protect organs or something. If we want to improve the organ situation, improving it for the rest of the population will be a much better way to go about it w/o raising ethical issues involving use of prisoners.

Finally, my final comment before might not work -- the death might have to be done in a certain way. Still, I think if he hung himself in his cell, his organs might have been safe if they rushed the body to the hospital. If not, I stand corrected.

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2015 11:04:01 AM

Joe was almost there with his suicide idea.

In the near future, technology may resolve this ethical question. Robots will administer anesthesia. And another robot may perform the removal of the donor heart. The prisoner donor may then press the button, Enter, and donate. This is what goes on now with surgeons, anyway. A patient donor is on a ventilator, and technically live. The surgeon removes a heart and turns off the machine.

The Chinese surgery community is not hounded by the lawyer traitor. And most organs are donated by condemned prisoners. The Chinese are imitating us including our bad habits, and may phase out this practice.


Another consideration.

This may be silly, but what if it is true? The recipient of a major organ may take on the personality of the donor in 10% of cases. What if the recipient then finds little girls sexually irresistible, but just cannot enjoy raping them without strangling them. It's just not the same. That little item may have to be in boxed bold print in the recipient consent form. Best place to study in large population groups, is in China. It may start with a retrospective study. If result is promising, do a prospective study.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 3, 2015 2:45:10 AM

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