Kingston, New York Medical Malpractice Lawyer Answers Ethical Question: Should Death Row Inmate Be Permitted To Atone For His Sins By Donating His Organs After His Death?


In Oregon, death row inmate, Christian Longo, 37, made an unusual last wish before his execution: he wants to atone for his sins (he murdered his wife and children) by donating his organs after his execution. Mr. Longo figures that he can save eight lives through his death, offering his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and other tissues. This would be a tiny dent in the national waiting list, which totals 110,772 candidates, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

The State denied Longo’s request. The State called Longo’s request to donate his organs as “morally reprehensible”.

Ethicists agree with the State. “I don’t think we want the kind of society that takes organs from prisoners.” said Dr. Paul Helft for the Center for Medical Ethics at Indiana University. The opposition of ethicists seems to be that prisoners should not use organ donation to gain an advantage in their criminal case and that permitting Mr. Longo to donate his organs will set a dangerous precedent. Ethicists point to China, where the majority of donated organs come from prisoners who are executed.

Transplant advocates state that increasing the supply of available organs is the most important thing. A person dying of kidney or heart failure cares little who provides the organ that saves their life.

Here’s my take on this ethical issue. The death row inmate, Mr. Longo, wants to accomplish a noble goal by donating his organs and in his case, he is not using the donation to gain an advantage in his criminal case. There is no question that a prisoner should not be permitted to donate organs to gain an advantage in a criminal case, but that is not the case for Mr. Longo. If a death row inmate has no ulterior motive for donating organs and simply wants to atone to some degree for his past sins, where is the crime in that?

Without the organs from Mr. Longo, sick persons in need of transplants will die unnecessarily. That is the real shame. The medical ethicists are not the persons in need of a life-saving organ–if they were, you can bet they’d see this issue differently. Medical ethicists need to wake up to the consequences that this ridiculous decision will have on sick and dying persons in need of organ transplants.

If you have any opinions on this subject, I welcome your comments. Thank you for taking the time from your day to read this blog.