Massachusetts bill could allow prisoners to trade their organs for freedom

Massachusetts bill could allow prisoners to trade their organs for freedom

Massachusetts bill could allow prisoners to trade their organs for freedom

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Doctors regularly ask potential donors about their health, well-being and ability to care for themselves and whether they smoke or take recreational drugs. These factors will affect not only the suitability of their organs for donation, but also the likelihood that they will recover well from the procedure.


“I would be concerned that someone incarcerated wouldn’t feel comfortable giving me a full and transparent history,” Reese says. “It’s hard to assess a person’s lifestyle when they’re incarcerated and they can’t really make decisions freely.”

There are other problems with the bill. Its apparent goal is to increase living organ donation from people who are in prison. We know very well that these people are a vulnerable group, much more likely to have been born into poverty or to have been victims of abuse during their childhood, for example. We also know that ethnic and racial minorities are overrepresented in the prison population. Just over 30% of American inmates are Hispanic, for example, and 38% are black.

“It could be perceived… as the removal of organs from Black [people] to give to others,” says Bell. “There could be an exploitation issue.”

State Representative Carlos González, who is one of the co-sponsors of the bill, sent me a statement saying that “broadening the pool of potential donors is an effective way to increase the likelihood that members Black and Latino family and friends receive life-saving treatment.”

It is true that people from racial and ethnic minority groups have even more difficulty getting the organs they need. In 2020, for example, the number of transplants performed on white people was 47.6% of the number currently pending. The figure was only 27.7% for blacks. But there are other ways to educate minority communities about organ donation and encourage informed decisions about it. And they shouldn’t involve the trade in organs for freedom.

Which brings us back to the first point. How much are our organs worth and how is this decision made? Is a kidney worth a year of freedom? Is bone marrow worth less? “How do they decide the math here?” Bell asks. “Is this really a fair trade?”

Fortunately, even if the bill were to pass, that would not mean that such exchanges would ever take place. Every organ donation must be approved by a medical and ethical team, which includes a person whose sole function is to advocate for the donor. Not everyone is likely to be comfortable with this type of exchange, Reese says. I think it’s probably for the best.


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