In 1993 Gladys and Jamie Scott received double life sentences for planning a robbery in Forrest, Mississippi. The robbers weren’t that successful, the total take was low (under $200, and it was split five ways). On 29th December, the womens’ sentences were commuted by the governor of Mississippi on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other, who is on dialysis.
This bothers me on multiple levels. I have heard the original sentence decried as too harsh, because of the lack of criminal history of the Scotts and the low take. I’m not sure that the “one free bite” rule holds for people; but I don’t enough about the case for opine on it. If the crime is heinous enough, is it fair to say, “well, this person did X before, so we shouldn’t punish him too harshly”? I don’t think so. Put in “detonated an atomic device” or “Blew up a building” in for X and you’ll see how silly that is. The sisters were accused of planning a shotgun robbery with violence. That’s pretty bad–but it DOES seem excessive when murders walk free after seven years.
Having said all that. If the original sentence is justified–follow through with it. Being concerned about the costs of dialysis in the prison system is secondary. Prisoners don’t have the ability to make free and uncoerced decisions about when to get up or go to bed, let alone give up a vital organ. If it is unethical for free individuals to profit from selling their organs (which it is in the United States) shouldn’t it be unethical for these women to buy their freedom (by saving the state a lot of medical expenses, that’s exactly what they are doing.)
Researchers go through ethical training every couple of years to work with human subjects. I am working on studies describing how well our tutoring program runs, and I am required to take human subjects training to use the data. I’m not doing anything different with the students, and they would never know. Nevertheless, I am required to learn about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and how children, students, prisoners, and the mentally retarded are protected populations, because they cannot freely consent. This isn’t a bad thing, thought the training is pretty simplistic. Be that as it may, I am just struck by the incongruity. I wonder if the Governor of Mississippi had to go through ethics training before he started playing God with prisoners’ lives and body parts?
Somehow, I don’t think so.