One individual who may be having complicated sentiments this Thanksgiving is Ronald Phillips, who is current residing on Ohio’s death row. He was supposed to be dead by now, but was spared at the last moment when Governor John Kasich issued a stay of execution to ponder Phillips’ unusual request, which had been rejected by prison officials. Phillips, you see, is not a nice guy, as his current address might suggest. He was convicted of raping and killing the three-year-old daughter of his girl friend. (They subsequently broke up. It was him, not her.) He had experienced a change of heart, however, or rather, wished to facilitate one. His sister needs a heart transplant, and he wants his to be passed over to her after his execution by lethal injection. He also wants his kidneys donated to his mother, who is on dialysis because hers are failing, and any other parts of him that might save a life given to others.
Presumably this will not include his hands, because there are a couple of horror movies, one old one in particular, about what happens after that operation, and they are pretty scary. There are no horror films that I know of, however, about the aftermath of getting an executed murderer’s kidney.
Gov. Kasich, who is a nice guy, has explained that as heinous as Phillips’ crime was, the state should try to accommodate his desire to save innocent lives. The tentative plan is to hollow Phillips out, execute him in July, and then harvest anything that’s left.
Have you seen that movie, by the way?
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Should such a request by a condemned prisoner be granted?
I’ll play devil’s advocate here, except that the advocate for the child rapist deserves the title more than I do. I think Kasich is confused, and that Phillips or his lawyers have figured out one more way to foil the criminal justice system.
It is worth noting that they didn’t come up with this request until the week of the scheduled execution, after all other avenues had been blocked. His attorney denied that it was a delaying tactic and insisted that it was a sincere attempt to do good. After all, child rapist murderers are always looking out for opportunities to do good, don’t you know. Kudos to them for thinking out of the box, but it shouldn’t be allowed.
Being able to help your family members with organ donations is just one of the many privileges of citizenship that a condemned prisoner forfeits when he or she is tried and convicted of a crime so terrible that it warrants death—and yes, in case you haven’t read earlier posts here on the topic, I believe that there are such crimes, and Ohio’s conclusion that raping and murdering a three-year-old girl is one of them seems eminently reasonable. Phillips wants to do something good for his family before he dies? Too bad. He should have considered that before raping a toddler. The loss of that opportunity is part and parcel of his punishment.
There is no certainty, I should note, that any of Phillips’ intended recipients could not find satisfactory organs that do not belong to murderers.
If condemned prisoners suddenly become organ donor candidates—despite those movies, that has rarely been permitted before in the U.S.— the state creates an automatic conflict of interest for itself. “Should we give this worthless, vicious killer life imprisonment, or execute him? Well, maybe we should check and see if any of his organs are a good match for someone—we’ll leave his brain out of it. And those hands, of course.” An estimated 3,500 people in Ohio and more than 120,000 nationally are currently awaiting organ donations. Lets get those killers executed: America needs kidneys and livers!
That’s not the basis on which a state should be determining a convicted criminal’s punishment, and it shouldn’t even be a confounding factor. It is a short leap from incidentally harvesting executed prisoner’s organs to executing men so that there are organs to harvest. Bonus Quiz: Guess what government regularly permits organ transplants from executed criminals? China. Too easy, right?
The other shoe this decision sets up to drop dropped almost immediately. “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen,” nice Gov. Kasich said in a statement. That ping was immediately and predictably (Kasich is mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate. Oh-oh…) answered by this pong:
“If the whole idea is to save a life, there’s one life to be saved simply by not executing the person at all,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Yes, many innocent people, especially family members and loved ones, are affected when someone violates society’s most vital laws, takes an innocent life, and is executed after being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Donating life saving organs is just one of an endless list of acts and activities, altruistic, charitable, beneficial or productive, that the condemned might have contributed to society, but the freedom to do those things was forfeited, and properly so, along with the right to life.
I think Kasich’s heart is in the right place, but he is wrong.
…And here is the original “The Hands of Orlac”:
Pointer and Source: ABA Journal
Graphic: Pretty Clever Films