A new bill proposed by Massachusetts Democrats proposes that prisoners could be offered a choice to donate their organs or bone marrow in exchange for up to a year off their prison sentence. Prisoners currently cannot donate organs in most states, except for a few outliers in which they can donate to close family members, but this bill would mark the first that trades organs for freedom.
The new bill, called HD 3822, explains:
“The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program shall allow eligible incarcerated individuals to gain not less than 60 and not more than 365 day reduction in the length of their committed sentence in Department of Corrections facilities, or House of Correction facilities if they are serving a Department of Correction sentence in a House of Corrections facility, on the condition that the incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s).”
The bill is unlikely to be passed and may even go against federal law, as a similar bill from 2007 was panned due to conflicts with the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. The act makes it illegal to “knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation”, so while you may have heard struggling students wanting to sell their kidneys for cash, it isn’t actually legal. In this case, a lowered prison sentence would likely be considered “valuable consideration”.
According to Jacobin, who asked the Department of Corrections for a statement, the bill's presenters did not consult them on the drafting of the bill.
The many ethical considerations for an organ donation bill such as this include the fact that prisoners would likely not be thinking rationally when they are incarcerated and offered a route out, alongside the significantly higher rates of HIV, Hepatitis and tuberculosis in the inmate populations. The justice system is also a supposed method of rehabilitation, and prison terms are decided by a court system and good behavior assessments; buying less time, either through money or organs, goes against these core foundations.
The justification by Carlos González and Judith A. Garcia, who have presented the bill, is that there is a crippling organ shortage ongoing in the US and other nations, and such a program would aim to combat this. While this is certainly true, a solution can likely be made that does not contradict ethical guidelines in such a way, for example lab-grown organs and other cultivation methods.