When most Americans change residences, they embrace a certain routine of downsizing certain possessions. Several items may be offered to friends and family; unwanted or otherwise unusable property that doesn’t find a new home will get set by the curb to entice passersby to stop and carry it off.
This week, a convicted child murderer seeks to dispose of some personal chattel as he vacates his prison cell for decidedly warmer climes. Ronald Phillips, a death row inmate scheduled for execution on Thursday, has submitted a formal request to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that his organs be altruistically donated to family members.
Specifically, Phillips has requested that his mother receive one or both of his kidneys as she has a severe renal disease that requires dialysis. His sister is also known to have an unspecified cardiac condition that Phillips hopes his own heart or heart tissue may help to alleviate. The letter sent via his lawyer outlines that Ronald Phillips further desires to make any other donatable organs – such as his corneas, liver, and lungs – available to the qualified matches on current waiting lists.
The recipient of a donated organ must typically undertake an extensive and exhaustive review for candidacy before being placed on a waiting list for viable matches. This process can be circumvented in cases where a donor specifically dedicates a beneficiary. No compensation may be offered or accepted between potential candidates under current federal law, and Phillips has not asked for any consideration or reward for his donation. If, however, the state of Ohio grants his request, his execution may be delayed as he undergoes testing for compatibility.
This burst of altruism is facilitated by the curious fact that his method of execution is a first: the state has instituted a new combination of two drugs, midazolam and hydromorphone, to replace the formula previously used for lethal injections. Teva, the pharmaceutical company that produces the propofol component of the cocktail formerly employed by states that allow the death penalty, issued a moratorium earlier this year that blocks the use of its drug by penal systems for the purposes of execution. As the remaining stores of propofol were used or expired, death sentences across the country have been delayed or suspended entirely. The lethal injection of Ronald Phillips this week would mark the first use of a substitute.
That process has had a bearing on the considerations for organ donation. The cocktail that has historically been used was considered humane but left extensive organ damage in its wake. The experimental combination of drugs intended for Phillips may not be as harsh on his organs, possibly leaving them viable for transplant.
Ronald Phillips was convicted and eventually sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and murder of his then-girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter. However, in his letter, Phillips now states that he wishes “to enable as many people as possible to benefit from his death.”
The state of Ohio has yet to issue an official response to the request. If approved, the move would set a legal and medical precedent for death row inmates and the disposition of their organs.
By Daniel Annear