The state of Mississippi leapt headlong onto the slipperiest of slopes as it is reportedly making  kidney donation a condition of parole for a convicted armed robber. As documented by the Associated Press, Mississippi’s Governor Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences of two sisters convicted in 1994 of the armed robbery that netted them $11.00.

In a move that would undoubtedly satisfy even Shakespeare’s vengeful Shylock, Barbour made the 36-year-old Gladys Scott’s release contingent on her giving a kidney to Jamie, her 38-year-old sister, who requires daily dialysis.

Providing a new twist to the concept of “a pound of flesh” the action is being treated with an astounding level of indifference and even being hailed.

Barbour’s spokesperson, Dan Turner, is quoted as stating, “She wanted to do it,” Turner said. “That wasn’t something we introduced.”

Scott’s lawyer seemed less than troubled by the conditional release. “I think it’s a victory,” said the sisters’ attorney, Chokwe Lumumba. “I talked to Gladys and she’s elated about the news. I’m sure Jamie is, too.”

Even the NAACP (the sisters are Black) got on the bandwagon with Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson stating the Scott sisters’ release will be “a great victory for the state of Mississippi for two individuals who received an excessive sentence” and he has no problem with the kidney donation requirement because Gladys Scott volunteered.

State meddling into proscribed surgical procedures in the name of societal good is certainly not a new concept. According to Learn NC, an education program sponsored by the University of North Carolina, during the 1920s and 1930s, public health officials, politicians, and scientists in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe began promoting the idea of eugenics – a “science” based on the belief that human populations could be improved through selective breeding.

Learn NC goes on to state that “In 1933, North Carolina began a program of forced sterilization that would last until 1974. Over four decades, an estimated 7,600 people were sterilized by order of the North Carolina Eugenics Board. Initially, most people who were sterilized had a mental illness or what we would now call intellectual disabilities. Most of these individuals lived in state-run hospitals or other institutions.”

Since when are these actions OK as long as the parties involved agree?  Where is the cry as to the precedent this sets or the historical atrocities we seem doomed to repeat?

It makes me wonder if a kidney will get one paroled from an armed robbery charge, will a slightly used spleen earn a pass for murderers? Governor Barbour?

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.

  1. I think that we should be making a distinction between whether or not the sentences were excessive in the case, as was argued irrespective of the kidney… and base that on statistics for similar crimes. We need to argue about that matter separately. If so, then they should have been considered for earlier release for that reason. I think there is something about the condition (kidney and the complaint of the sister’s medical costs) to be wary of regardless of who initiated the idea- it should raise some concerns about potential exploitation and that seems like something advocacy groups might also consider, as a distinctly different issue from the sentence question.
    And while it is true that the theft was eleven dollars, it was an armed robbery and while I am not going to say the sentences were fair, I think we do need to be mindful of victims.

    We can’t ignore the condtant mention of cost of care. Perhaps if another surgery- say, a lobotomy- decreases the costs of care we should consider that? or if you have expensive cancer, you should be released? Do we really want to get into making decisions about release based on costs?

    I think in MANY cases sentences are excessive, ridiculous, but I say we tackle that as a problem.

  2. Jack deJarnette

    Recently we had a sheriff’s deputy, Jeremy Cassidy, wounded in a gunfight with a truly BAD guy. This guy was holding an ex-girlfriend hostage and shot her in both knees. Deputy Cassidy along with his partner entered the house to free the hostage. The truly BAD guy shot him through both kidneys. Through excellent medical care and more than 250 units of blood deputy Cassidy was saved. The truly BAD guy also shot two other deputies before being captured.

    Deputy Cassidy, a 36 year old husband now undergoes dialysis four days a week. Hopefully after another month or two he will go to University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham to start the process of having a kidney transplant. If he qualifies, the wait can be up to 9 years for a cadaveric kidney. His best hope is that a compatible living donor will step forward to offer a kidney.

    Emotionally I would like to see a kidney harvested from the truly BAD guy and given to deputy Cassidy, no fact, I would like to see both kidneys harvested and given to two recipients. Let him spend the rest of his life tied to a dialysis machine.

    However, I realize the slippery slope that would launch so from a legal point of view it is totally unreasonable.

    In the case of the sisters, my understanding is that Gladys voluntarily offered a kidney to Jamie and Governor Barbour pardoned them so it could happen. As to costs, Medicare pays for kidney transplants and the immunosuppression medications necessary to prevent rejection.

  3. Michael J. Solender

    Good guys, bad guys, volunteering, costs, appropriateness of sentence etc. – these are all important and germane to any specific case.

    I think there is an issue here that needs examination and pause INDEPENDENT of any context or the merits of a particular situation or case.

    My concern is the state placing conditions involving organ donations into the mix before granting benefits such as parole. Who is to say the next move wouldn’t be requiring welfare recipients be sterilized as a condition of receiving benefits? Or unemployment recipients being mandated to donate blood? The state has no right/business taking basic human right to choice matters and putting them into what amounts to a “pay-to-play” coercive, extortionist action.

    Scary. And scarier still that no one seems to be upset about it.

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