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Okla. Lawmaker Wants Death Row Inmates To Be Allowed To Donate Organs

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File photo of an execution chamber. (credit: CAROLINE GROUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of an execution chamber. (credit: CAROLINE GROUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state lawmaker calls his idea to give Oklahoma death row inmates the ability to donate their organs before execution a chance at redemption, but experts in the organ transplantation field say it is ethically unsound and goes against current medical practice.

Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said he is developing legislation that would give a convicted murderer an opportunity to extend someone else’s life. Dorman said the idea has been explored in some states around the country, but never instituted.

“It’s Christian principles that if you can offer someone a chance of redemption, you should offer that opportunity,” Dorman said of his proposed program, which would be voluntary.

But the organs would have to be harvested before the lethal dose of drugs renders them unusable, which would reverse the longstanding medical practice of only harvesting organs from bodies that have been declared legally dead, officials say.

Ryan Holmes, assistant director of health care ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California, said he is concerned whether a surgeon could even remove organs, especially vital organs, from an otherwise healthy person.

“I do think it’s very problematic for a surgeon to be involved in this kind of scenario, even if we’re not talking about vital organs,” Holmes said. “It sounds incredibly extreme. I don’t think this, in any way, shape or form, could be constituted as a normal donor scenario.”

Federal guidelines for organ donations require that any organ to be transplanted be recovered from a deceased individual, said Jeff Orlowski, CEO of Life Share Transplant Services that oversees the organ donation registry in Oklahoma. On rare occasions, live donors donate a kidney or a piece of their liver, but that’s an entirely different process because the donor is assured he or she will live a normal life afterward, Orlowski said.

“It’s a very, very dangerous topic from an ethical standpoint,” Orlowski said of Dorman’s proposal, noting it might also deter potential, normal organ donors in Oklahoma. “It just frames the whole thing wrong. This turns it into sort of a redemption kind of topic. That’s not what donations are about.”

Nearly 1,000 people are on a waiting list for an organ donation in Oklahoma, Orlowski said, and that as many as 75 people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant. Nationally, 135,000 people are on a waiting list and about 20 people die every day, he said.

Already, the state prison system currently prohibits organ donations by non-death row inmates, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joyce Jackson said.

Orlowski said the process detailed in Dorman’s proposal would also be “incredibly expensive” for taxpayers, and that it would require a surgical facility equipped for harvesting organs and keeping inmates on life support until they are executed.

No such facility exists at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, where death row inmates are housed, Jackson said.

“I’m not aware of what it would take to do something like that,” she said. “We can’t really give you an opinion on it because we don’t know what it is.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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