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Oklahoma lawmaker wants to allow death row inmates to donate organs

Oklahoma Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is drafting legislation that would allow inmates to donate their organs upon execution. The law would require significant changes to the execution process for inmates who volunteer for the program, and some are calling it unfeasible.
by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: November 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: November 5, 2013

A state lawmaker thinks he's found the perfect place to locate the hard-to-find organs needed for lifesaving transplants: on death row

Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is drafting a bill that would allow prisoners facing the death penalty to donate their organs.

Dorman acknowledges that the controversial measure faces several hurdles, including changing the state's execution procedure for those who volunteer to serve as donors.

Oklahoma now executes inmates using lethal injection, which would render any donated organs unusable. Under Dorman's plan, inmates would be anesthetized, have their organs removed at the correctional facility by a surgeon, then be kept on life support until they are executed.

“I don't think it will be a tough sell,” Dorman said. “I think with the strong stance that we have with members of the Legislature being pro-life, I certainly see this as a pro-life idea because you're saving lives with the actions of that prisoner seeking redemption.”

But state Corrections Department officials say they have little money to afford such a program. And the head of the nonprofit group that oversees the state's organ donation registry questioned the ethics of such a prisoner-donor program, calling it a “potential disaster.”

Under Dorman's proposal, doctors would not wait for a person to be declared brain dead before harvesting their organs.

“It completely inverts the process (by) removing the organs while the patients are still alive and then executing them,” said Jeff Orlowski, CEO of Life Share Transplant Services, which oversees the organ donation registry in Oklahoma. “It's very much a problem.”

Orlowski also questioned the cost of building a prison surgical facility capable of handling such complex procedures.

“When we have an organ donor at a hospital, we may have surgical teams coming from California, Florida and Illinois to take individual organs they're going to take back and transplant,” Orlowski said. “You have to coordinate multiple surgical teams, and to have that happen in a correctional facility, I would think would be logistically impossible.”

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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