Medical Ethics Question Of The Day: Should You Be Able Donate A Kidney In Order To Get Out Of Jail?


Experts in medical ethics are outraged by the release of sisters from jail on the condition that one of them pledges to donate a kidney to the other after their release from the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Is this kosher? Yes, according to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who made the release conditional upon the donation of the kidney.

The inmate sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, had been in prison for 16 years for their part in a 1993 armed robbery. In January, 2010, both of Jamie’s kidneys failed and she was forced to begin dialysis treatment. In his statement, the Mississippi Governor stated that: “[Gladys] asked for the opportunity to give her sister a kidney and we’re making that opportunity available to her.”

Medical ethical experts are outraged by the conditions of the Governor’s release of the sisters from jail. Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that an organ donation should not be a condition for the release from prison since it leaves the impression that Gladys Scott is trading a kidney for her release. This raises the question: Should an inmate be permitted to pledge the donation of a vital human organ, such as a kidney, in exchange for her release from prison?

My answer? An emphatic “yes”, at least in the case of Gladys Scott. For starters, a kidney donation is an elective operation. No one is forcing Gladys Scott to donate a kidney to her sister–she has freely chosen to do it. Gladys should have the right to donate a kidney if she chooses to.

That’s fine, you say, but should an inmate be allowed to pledge a kidney for a “get out of jail” card? Of course, every case is unique, but let’s examine the case of Glady’s Scott. Glady’s was imprisoned for 16 years for armed robbery that netted between $11 and $200. Armed robbery is serious stuff, but so is the time that she spent behind bars. Now, after 16 years, Gladys Scott wants to do something constructive with her life and the Governor wants to give her some payback.

What is so wrong with this? Nothing. Let the medical experts moan about the trading of human organs, but the facts are clear: for the first time in her life, Gladys Scott is helping society instead of taking from it. The Governor of Mississippi should be applauded for allowing Gladys to get out of jail in exchange for the donation of a kidney.

While I understand the rationale of the medical ethicists, their reasoning doesn’t make sense in this case. Good work by the Governor and Gladys Scott!