Last week, I finally registered as an organ donor on the Secretary of State website. I get a little sticker for my driver’s license that tells the docs my organs are harvestable in the event of my death. I’m well aware of the shortages of available organs and the long long lists of people waiting and praying for compatible organs and I’m happy to do my part.
Boosting education and encouraging participation in organ donation programs could eventually make a big difference in the numbers of people who register as donors. But today I came across this article on the AMA site that details a slightly different approach. It amazes me that even in the age of extensive and widely publicized discussions on the medical ethics of issues like stem cell research, someone could still manage to come up with a bird-brained idea like this. And actually build two proposals out of it. Democratic State Senator Ralph Anderson of South Carolina would have his state solve the organ donation problem by tapping prisoners as a resource for bone marrow and for much-needed organs like kidneys. How? By shortening their sentences in return. Does any part of this sound like a good idea? Mr. Anderson isn’t the only one who thinks so. China took some heat back in November for allegedly harvesting organs from executed prisoners who may not have consented. In some cases, these organs were even sold to wealthy foreigners who could pay higher fees. My insides twitch just thinking about the ethical implications these deplorable practices could have. Mr. Anderson might have been able to stop this madness before it started and save himself some grief by simply consulting with any member of the medical community before allowing his proposal to reach the public. Perhaps in this case, however, since no harm was done (controversy has kept the proposals from going any further), we might look at this from a “bad publicity is still publicity” standpoint and be grateful that it’s bringing attention to the organ shortage issue.