Death Row Inmate Wants to Donate His Organs But Can’t

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I was on a plane the other day and the fellow one row ahead of me across the aisle had a copy of the New York Times. It was cool because it was made out of a flimsy paper and was printed with cheap ink that smears. It was also mostly black and white. It must have been an old person version of NYTimes.com.

Anyway, there was a big headline that I was able to see from my vantage point and I really wanted to read the article. But how do you tell someone that you were reading over their shoulder and want to know if they could let you read an article from their newspaper. Luckily, I realized that this old person version of the NY Times might also be available on NYTimes.com. (All kidding aside, I actually miss the feel of a newspaper in my hands as opposed to reading the Times online.)

When I got back to in front of a computer I found it.

Christian Longo is a murderer. He committed a heinous crime and after years of denial and self-denial has come to grips with the horror of what he has done. He is ready to die for his actions and that is where he is headed. Christian is on death row in Oregon. He is 37 years old.

Waiting for execution must be the most excruciating feeling. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like and I can’t imagine the thoughts that go through the head of someone on death row.

I imagine that a prevalent sentiment on death row is the wish to do good with the time they have left. The finality of capital punishment must give even the most hardened the desire to leave some sort of legacy beside their crimes. Yet, it can be really hard to “do good” behind prison walls.

Christian is struggling with this. He wants to do something good. In his mind, giving life would be an appropriate way to “do good” in the wake of his murderous life. So Christian has requested that his organs be donated to some of the people awaiting organs for life saving transplants. Some states use an execution method that would harm the organs. But Oregon, where Christian is incarcerated uses a toxin that leaves the organs alone which opens to door to allow harvesting of Christian’s organs to save the lives of others. His organs can save up to 8 people. EIGHT PEOPLE!

He has been denied. “The interests of the public and condemned inmates are best served by denying the petition.”

That’s basically “legalese” for “no”.

Reasons cited by Christian in his editorial range from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

Some are concerned about health. (They can test.)

Others think inmates may escape if we use their organs. (huh?)

Yet others worry that inmates will be taken advantage of and forced to donate their organ. (I can hear this but as Christian writes, reassurances are possible.)

Personally, I think the public thinks they are punishing inmates further by denying them the right to donate their organs. This is dumb. Organ donation is not a “privilege”. I wonder if those denying Christian the opportunity to donate his organs to those who need life saving organs would be comfortable looking the ill people in the eye and saying “you can’t live because the person who wants to give you organs is a prisoner”. It all seems twisted to me.

Dehumanizing inmates to the point that they cannot even save the lives of another is another indictment on our prison system. At the very least, those who can save lives should be able do so. Even if they are on death row.

Link: NY Times

  • bec

    i would think that this would be a really good way to do sort of a community service to pay society back for some of the wrongs that he has done. one of my best friends recently had a heart transplant. the months waiting for a donor heart were excruciatingly long for her, her husband (they were newlyweds), and all of her friends and family. imagine the good that this one man’s body can do, and he’s willing to allow it! what right does anyone have to tell him that he cannot save the lives of other people?

  • Guest

    Uh, Rabbi- the NY Times went to non-smearing ink a few years ago.

    • Lol. That’s about the time I stopped reading it in paper format… 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I think they switched to non-smearing ink 15 or 20 years ago. You were still in diapers! 🙂

        • Not quite diapers… I was born in ’81.

          • Anonymous

            Not quite. 🙂

  • The fear of escape is just bizarre. Do they think inmates will try to smuggle themselves out organ-by-organ to be reassembled by some mad scientist accomplice? It reminds me of this Johnny Cash classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIuo0KIqD_E

    • Anonymous

      Heh heh … they probably are saying that prisoners will be afraid of organ harvests and try to escape more. Bunk, of course.

    • The Law

      The reason for the escape concern is as follows:

      If an inmate registers for a transplant donor list and it comes out that he is the ONLY match for a person on the outside, the person on the outside will have a tremendous desire to get him out of prison and may even feel compelled to participate in helping him escape or petitioning for his release.

      there is more to it, but thats a thumbnail sketch….

    • Like the prisoners organs go to someone else and the recipient turns into that prisoner.

  • Holyhyrax

    I agree with your post (btw, there is nothing like sitting back and doing a cross word puzzle in a newspaper).

    The only thing I would disagree is: Organ donation is not a “privilege”

    I assume you mean, its a right, correct? But someone else has to go in and do it. Someone elses time, someone elses expense. It may be your right to want to donate, but its a privilege that others actually go ahead and do it.

  • Carol Brashear

    You stated, “Waiting for execution must be the most excruciating feeling. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like and I can’t imagine the thoughts that go through the head of someone on death row.”

    I believe being between 3 and 6 years old and having your father tie rocks to your legs, then being tossed over a bridge into freezing water alive, could top that. Two of “Christian’s” little children, I believe they were Zachary and Sadie, were chosen for that. Madison, on the other hand, was strangled, but still alive, when he stuffed her little body into a suitcase with her dead mother Mary Jane (strangled), and tossed into freezing water to drown.

    We always need to name the victims and the crime when talking about any endeavor Christian Longo is pursuing; both to honor the victims, and to help us see who he is and what he is capable of. For context.

    You also stated: “He has come to grips with the horror of what he’s done.” Is that because he said so? After his murders he went to Mexico to enjoy his life, until he got caught.

    Taking up the cause of death row inmate’s organ donation was a stroke of pure genious. Like many guilty criminals … “No” is not an answer he will ever respect, regardless of who says it. His children possibly said “Daddy no!” (he was the only witness and we have just his version of what took place)

    I don’t deny more organ donors are needed. I don’t know what the solution is. After the article in the NYT’s, I immediately registered as a donor. But I cannot, with a clear conscience, support his cause (which is really Christian Longo)

    • Thank you for your important comments.

      I understand your disgust and distaste but I have two important disagreements with you.

      1) I don’t think any mention of a criminal requires their crimes be graphically described. You have no idea how Christian feels about his crimes right now. In Judaism we believe in Teshuva (See: http://finkorswim.com/2010/09/06/essay-what-is-teshuva-repentance-and-how-does-it-work-in-judaism/)

      2) The upshot of your opinion is that innocent folks who need a new organ should die in order to NOT let Christian feel good. I don’t think this is a moral position.

      • The Law

        It depends on what the purpose for criminal sentencing is. In FL it’s punishment, not rehabilitation. So it doesn’t matter if this murderer feels bad, is sad, found Jesus, etc… He’s there to be punished, plain and simple. Giving his life “purpose” anus giving him anyngood feelings would abrogate his punishment. His life has been rendered worthless by the justice system. If not for all the worthless appeals, he would be dead by now. Punishment exacted. Justice served.

        • The Law

          Btw – that should say and, not anus. Damn you auto spell correcting iPad…

        • David Olesker

          The penalty prescribed by law is ending his life. There is no additional penalty legislated of “making him feel bad” or “denying his life purpose”. There are some inescapably unpleasant consequences of being sentenced to death, and the convict must bear them, but anything beyond that would be an unlegislated punishment. For example, it would not be legal to dress a death row convict in clothing purposely designed to be uncomfortable on the grounds that he ought to suffer. Neither would it be permissible to feed him disgusting food.

          Presumably the court felt that losing the right to donate your organs (if there is such a right) is one of those inescapable consequences of being sentenced to death. I’d be curious what their reasoning is.

      • Ytquinn

        I think that Carol was correct in pointing out his crime in the context of you expressing empathy for him.
        It may be fine to allow his organs to be donated, but if we are going to start feeling bad for him, we should see him in the true light of the choices he made.

        • StOoPiD_MoNkEy

          I dont think its about feeling bad. Its about society as a whole. We couldnt stop him from comitting atrocities. He is being punished. His life for the ones he took. But then what? Is eye for an eye all we are really about? Allowing inmates like Christian to donate organs, tissue etc. Is a major help to society in a medical resource we are lacking. If you’ve never watched someone waste away because of organ failure I invite you to go to poor neighborhoods and visit those on waiting lists for years.

          Christian murdered his family. 4 people. Harvesting his tissue can save about 50 ppl. Then add what ever organs are viable. Lets not forget marrow, skin graphd, cadaver bones, ligaments etc. This horrible person who murdered 4 ppl can potentially save close to 100 ppp. Or at least make their lives easier. IMO, thats enough reason to support this. Eff Christian. Guys a POS. BUT…the bigger picture is the point.

  • Anonymous

    After thinking about it some more, I believe that since the state has decided that his life is forfeit (i.e. his life is “theirs” … ours), his organs should also be considered to be forfeit and thus *all* executed prisoners organs are “owned” by state for them to use or dispose of as they see fit. In general, there’s no point to allowing organs that can be used to save a life to go to waste. And if you believe in such things as “kapparah”, perhaps the use of a murderers organs to save a life may serve as a kapparah (or an additional kapparah) to reduce the punishment that murderer will receive after death.