13 January 2011

When justice costs a kidney

On January 7, two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, were released from a Mississippi prison where they had been serving life sentences an $11 robbery that occurred in 1994.

Yes, life in prison for stealing $11 when they were young adults. No one was harmed during the robbery. And the sisters had no prior criminal record. But still they got life sentences. Harsh.

A number of civil rights activists and groups had adopted the case and petitioned for years for their sentences to be commuted. Last week, the hard work paid off -- but with a condition that I find rather bizarre.

As AOL News described it, "The sisters' life sentences were suspended by [Republican governor Haley Barbour] with the unusual condition that one sister donate her kidney to the other, who is sick and needs a transplant."

While I hope that the transplant will go well, I know from a friend's recent kidney transplant that it's not a simple thing. The donor's kidney must be a good match. The donor must pass a battery of physical tests to ensure that she is in good enough health to donate a kidney. And, of course, she must be willing. (For the record, as AOL notes, "Gladys had already agreed to donate one of her kidneys to Jamie when Barbour included the stipulation as part of their release.")

Sharing a kidney seems like the sisterly thing to do. But forcing a live organ donation as a condition of release from a draconian prison sentence seems to me like blackmail, not justice.

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