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03/23/2008

The death row inmate as organ donor

In a recent issue of Good Magazine, Graeme Wood argues that we should explore the possibility of allowing death row prisoners to, essentially, die by organ donation:

The real objection to the Mayan Protocol [death by organ donation] is aesthetic. Many want executions to remain grim affairs, and dont want a condemned man to cloak his squalid final hour in the raiment of altruism. To get the organs, you really have to take them right away, and that would change the mood from an execution to a sympathetic harvest, [Art] Caplan says. Frankly, the families of many victims probably dont want that.

Plus, the medicalization of execution would creep everyone out. We like the state to kill neither too clinically (as with a multiple organ transplant) nor too medievally (by chopping off the head). Better, for the sake of all but the condemned and the people dying for his organs, to find a Goldilocks-style middle ground in executionneither too controlled nor too chaotic.

But being creeped out is the price of living in a society that kills its criminals. If organ harvesting would make executions uncomfortably like human sacrifice, perhaps thats because our death chambers are already gory enough to make anyone but a Mayan high priest pale.

-Greg Dahlmann

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