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The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Massachusetts lawmakers propose a bill to trade organs for a reduced prison sentence

A controversial bill proposal made its way to Beacon Hill last week, which would allow prisoners in Massachusetts to donate their organs and bone marrow in exchange for time off their sentence. The bill was proposed by two Massachusetts state lawmakers, both Democrats [2].
Prisoners who participate in the program would receive a reduction in their sentence, ranging from 60 days to a year. State Representatives Carlos González and Judith Garcia have made several attempts to ease the anxiety surrounding the bill. “This bill basically establishes a committee with advocates, with advocates of our inmate population to establish the parameters, the guidelines, the clarity, the transparency, on a policy that is lacking within the department of corrections today,” said González in a statement reported by WGBH [3].
Concerns about the ethics of such a program were immediately raised. Prison activist and founder of Project Turnaround, Romilda Pereira, expressed her concerns about the new bill and how it could affect the prison population. “It’s like you’re harvesting organs. It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel humane…You’re bargaining with vulnerable people over their time” [2].
The new bill is still highly unique, and of course, it raises questions about accessing the medical history of inmates. Receiving a fully transparent medical history from inmates can be hard to obtain, since many inmates are serving time for drug and substance abuse-related charges. Without full knowledge of a prisoner’s medical history, the eligibility of the prisoner could be taken away, otherwise the transplant could put the recipient’s life at risk [1].
The goal of the bill, as stated by Garcia, is to “restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow” and “recognize incarcerated donors’ decisions by offering reduced sentences.” It was also proposed to widen the donor pool in Massachusetts for minority communities. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the waitlist for 2023 organ transplants in Massachusetts alone is already up to 4,834 people [4,5].
While the intention of opening the door to more organ and bone marrow donations to minority communities may seem like a valid proposition, the source of these donations are members of the same community the state lawmakers are trying to help. Racial minorities are significantly over-represented in the United States prison population, with 30 percent of U.S. inmates being Hispanic and 38 percent of U.S. inmates being Black [1].
It’s true that people from racial minority groups have a more challenging time receiving the organ donations they need, and the number of transplants performed on white people in the United States made up 47.6 percent of the current waiting number compared to the 27.7 percent for Black people. Brigham and Women’s Hospital epidemiologist stated, “There are certainly ways we can engage our free communities in educating them about the options of organ and bone marrow donation,” Monik Jiménez said. “But going to our incarcerated population as a source is problematic, at best, and exploitative” [1,2].
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons currently only allows organ donations by inmates if the recipient of the donation is an immediate member of the inmate’s family. But even then, several state prisons in Massachusetts, and the rest of the country, don’t have a system for organ and bone marrow donations. No state in the country allows organ donations from executed prisoners, regardless of whether they were organ donors [4].
Sources:

  1. https://www.technologyreview.com/2023/02/03/1067768/massachusetts-bill-prisoners-swap-organs-freedom/#:~:text=That’s%20right.,pool%20of%20potential%20organ%20donors.
  2. https://www.cbsnews.com/boston/news/massachusetts-bill-prisoners-donate-organs-reduced-sentences/
  3. https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2023/02/02/a-bill-that-would-let-prisoners-trade-organs-for-a-reduced-sentence-faces-significant-blowback
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/feb/01/massachusetts-prisoners-organ-donations
  5. https://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/data/view-data-reports/state-data
About the Contributor
Samantha Beady, News Editor