Massachusetts lawmakers proposed a bill that would allow prisoners to donate their organs or bone marrow in exchange for reduced sentences.
The legislation would “establish a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program within the Department of Correction and a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee.” Under this program, incarcerated individuals could reduce their sentence anywhere from 60 days to one year if they donate their bone marrow or organs.
The committee will be promoting standards of eligibility for prisoners as well as determining the number of donations that could earn an individual a reduced sentence. The bill also states that the Department of Correction will not receive commissions or monetary payments for bone marrow donated by inmates. (Paying for an organ is illegal in the U.S.)
According to the BBC, federal prisons in the U.S. allow for organ donations as long as the recipient is an immediate family member. But in Massachusetts, as well as at many other state prisons, there is no direct path for incarcerated people to donate organs or bone marrow, even to their relatives.
Rep. Judith García, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the legislation would “restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing [an] opportunity for them to donate organs and bone marrow.”
The program would also aid in addressing the decades-long shortage of organ donations in the U.S. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are more than 104,457 people in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, and 59,027 of them are actively on waiting lists. Within Massachusetts, nearly 5,000 residents are on an organ transplant waiting list.
But critics of the bill say that it’s unethical and coercive to offer time off of prisoner’s sentences in exchange for organ donations.
“Prisoners should be able to donate life-saving bone marrow and organs if they wish, but incentivizing it through good time is coercive,” a Boston abolitionist tweeted. “There are people willing to pay a kidney to get out of prison, but that is not a choice they should have facilitated by the government.”
Some also point out that the bill is exploitative and preys on the desperation and vulnerability of incarcerated people.
“What’s most troubling about this legislation is that [the] system is so broken, and incarcerated people are so vulnerable, that there are people who will give up a limb for freedom because they have no other options,” legal reform advocate Dyjuan Tatro said in a tweet.