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New Bill for Prisoners to Get Early Exit for Organ Donations Receives Flak

A bill in the Massachusetts State House is receiving pushback for appearing to contain a quid pro quo. State legislators are now amending the bill to read more clearly to its intended purpose.

Key takeaways:

Massachusetts State Representative Carlos Gonzalez (D) filed H.B. 3822 on Jan. 20 to help the state of Massachusetts create a program to help in-prisoned individuals receive bone marrow and organ donations.

The bill has drawn controversy for its language suggesting prisoners could receive time off their sentence for participating in organ donations.

The bill states:

"The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program shall allow eligible incarcerated individuals to gain not less than 60 and not more than 365 day reduction in the length of their committed sentence in Department of Corrections facilities, or House of Correction facilities if they are serving a Department of Correction sentence in a House of Corrections facility, on the condition that the incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s)."

In a Twitter post from January 27, one of the bill's co-sponsors, Representative Judith Garcia (D), highlighted the reasoning and positives behind the legislation.

Here’s Volume I of Garcia’s Guide to Legislation! #mapoli— Rep Judith García (@GarciaJudithMA) January 27, 2023

Garcia's post says that 5,000 Massachusetts residents are currently awaiting organ transplants and that it is impossible for incarcerated folks to receive organ or bone marrow transplants. The proposed bill’s solution is to establish a voluntary path to organ and bone marrow donations.

The representative's numbers are not too far off. Currently, 4,655 Massachusetts residents are waiting for an organ donation according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. In 2022, there was a total of 386 donors in the state of Massachusetts. The demand for organs needed is currently not matched by donations.

However, what initially was intended for health care improvements for incarcerated individuals has turned into a ball of controversy.

On Wednesday, both legislators addressed the debate. Gonzalez issued a statement to ABC News regarding the confusion. He says the purpose of the bill was to give prisoners easier access to donate to loved ones, and not incentivize prisoners to donate organs for less prison time.

"It is crucial to respect prisoners’ human dignity and agency by respecting their choice to donate bone marrow or an organ," Gonzales said. "No law currently prevents incarcerated individuals from being donors. Inmates should have the same basic rights every citizen has in Massachusetts.”

Gonzales maintains a much more timid social media presence than Garcia, who released a PDF of an op-ed in the Everett Independent on Twitter to explain the situation.

This bill was written at the request of incarcerated individuals who hope to help loved ones in extreme circumstances. With the help of incarcerated ppl & advocates, we’re in the process of amending the bill, removing sentence reductions & clarifying the proposed protocol.— Rep Judith García (@GarciaJudithMA) February 8, 2023

Garcia says the bill is intended to support “one of the most ignored groups of people,” in incarcerated individuals along with their families. Garcia emphasizes racial inequalities when it comes to organ donations.

Black patients wait for an average of 1,335 days on kidney transplant waitlists, compared to 734 days for white patients. Garcia emphasizes the higher risk of unjust incarceration for people of color, which makes them ineligible to donate an organ to a family member at risk for organ failure.

If legislators want the bill to be turned into law, it will need complete reworking. The bill is no longer than two pages in its current form and doubles down on the incentive for prisoners in the final lines of the bill.

"The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee shall also be responsible for promulgating standards of eligibility for incarcerated individuals to participate and the amount of bone marrow and organ(s) donated to earn one’s sentence to be commuted."

Organ donations in the U.S.

The CDC says the most commonly transplanted organs include the kidney, heart lung, pancreas, and intestines. Close to 100,000 American are on the waiting list for an organ each day.

Unfortunately, many of those on the waiting list are in a struggle to obtain the organ they need. The CDC says there were only 14,000 deceased organ donors in 2021. That population donated an average of 3.5 organs per deceased donor. Only 6,000 organs per year are donated by those alive.

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