You’re Free to Go – for the Price of a Kidney

You’re Free to Go – for the Price of a Kidney

in Theft Crimes, on

In an unusual deal, two sisters will be released from prison after serving just 16 years of their life sentences. The two had been convicted for their part in a 1994 armed robbery that netted $11.

Jamie and Gladys Scott’s case has been the subject of debate for years. Supporters have said the sentences were too harsh and suggested they were racially motivated. The sisters are black, and their case was heard in Mississippi. That state’s justice system has frequently come under fire for racial bias — charges fairly familiar to North Carolinians. When the terms of their release were made public, the sisters once again became a cause célèbre.

Jamie, 36, is on daily dialysis. As her health has deteriorated, the health care costs borne by the state have increased. According to state officials, the dialysis costs state taxpayers about $200,000 a year. While the governor’s stated reason for Jamie’s release is her health, it’s hard not to wonder if the cost of care was a factor as well.

Gladys, 38, has earned her early release on an unusual condition: She must donate a kidney to her sister within one year. Gladys proposed the condition in her petition, and the governor granted it. Some have hailed the governor’s decision as a “shining example” of his power to grant clemency, or as a purely humanitarian act. But others say the bargain raises troubling ethical and legal issues.

Arthur Caplan, an expert in bioethics, points out that it is illegal to buy or to sell organs, and it is illegal to force someone to give up an organ. Donations are supposed to be made freely, and the donor should be able to change his or her mind at any time, even the very last minute. By conditioning Gladys’s release on her donation of a kidney, has the governor taken that choice away from her? If she does change her mind, does she go back to prison?

Gladys’s attorney responds that she is committed to doing this for her sister, that she won’t change her mind and that this is by no means a quid pro quo arrangement. But there’s another issue that no one involved has addressed: Gladys may not even be a match.

The governor responded to these questions in a statement this week. “All of the ‘What if’ questions are, at this point, purely hypothetical. We’ll deal with those situations if they actually happen.”

Along with the rest of us, criminal defense lawyers will be watching to see how it all turns out.

Resource: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) “Sister to Trade Kidney for Parole” 12/31/10