Scott Sisters Kidney Transplant Violates Laws: What If Sisters Aren’t a Match?

Just a quick follow-up on the news of the suspended sentences of the Scott Sisters by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour which I’m sure will be seen as a hater move by some. But as I posed the question in a recent piece as to the significance of release being contingent on a kidney transplant. The following by Susan Donaldson James of ABC News, raises some good questions; questions which I believe needs to be sorted out, or at least considered:

Ethicists say suspending a prison sentence on the condition that one sister give the other a kidney is a “quid pro quo” and threatens the ethical underpinnings of living donation laws.

Dr. William Hurlburt, a Stanford neurologist who sat on the President’s Council on Ethics, said the news was troubling.

“We pondered over and over this issue and came to the conclusion that it was such a tricky medical realm with so much risk for abuse that we agreed organ donation must always remain altruistic,” he said.

[…] “As soon as the governor began throwing around commutation — getting out of her prison sentence — he began to undercut the ethical framework,” said Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “He has now put the sisters’ donation in jeopardy because the parole is absolutely a payment, which is against the law. It would be considered pressure or coercion.”

[…] The philosophical battle resulted in the legal and ethical guidelines that govern organ donation today. Restrictions were placed on those in mental institutions and child donors because they are not deemed competent to give informed consent and an irrevocable decision that might harm them.

[…] Barbour, who is a Republican in his second term and a possible presidential candidate, said the parole board agreed with the indefinite suspension of the Scott sisters’ sentences, which is different from a pardon or commutation because it comes with conditions.

But some worry that Gladys Scott might not be a qualified donor, and if not, would she have to return to prison?

“What if she changes her mind or is medically unsuitable?” said Caplan. “We don’t know yet if she is physically a good match. HIV, hepatitis or cancer could knock her out.”

“For more than 50 years in the U.S. and in law and ethics, quid pro quos are not acceptable. Her sister should have the right to change her mind until they wheel her into the hospital and take out the kidney,” he said.

But the governor told the Associated Press said the issue doesn’t worry him.

[…] Some ethicists say the governor should have separated the issues of early release and organ donation.

“He could recognize her generous offer and take that into account in determining whether the prisoner was worthy of parole or release. In society, we usually try to determine how the character has changed or evolved while in prison,” said Felicia Cohn, bioethical director for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, Calif. “If she made a generous gift to her sister that might qualify for release, but it shouldn’t be a condition for release.”(source)So what if Gladys Scott’s kidney isn’t a match for her sister Jamie. Should that be the case, wouldn’t it be a greater injustice having at least one of the sisters return to prison for failing to uphold her end of the bargain? With the kidney transplant being a condition of the suspension of their sentence, did the governor truly act in the interest of justice by seeking to right a wrong?