Legislation /

Massachusetts May Reduce Sentences of Inmates Who Donate Organs and Bone Marrow

An LGBTQIA2S+ prison abolitionist organization called the bill "unethical and depraved"

Inmates in Massachusetts could be granted an early release if they agree to donate their organs.

State lawmakers in Massachusetts have proposed reducing prison sentencing by one year for eligible inmates who have donated either bone marrow or an organ to address racial health disparities in Massachusetts.

The bill would direct the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to form a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program, which would be initiated and overseen by a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee.

“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),” per the proposed policy. 

The Committee would consist of five members including the Department of Corrections Commissioner or a designated representative and the Medical Director of the Department of Corrections or a designated representative. The board would also include a bone marrow or organ donation specialist who is employed by a Massachusetts hospital and a representative from the state’s District Attorney’s Association. 

If the bill is made law, the committee will send annual reports detailing the “actual amounts of bone marrow and organ(s) donated, and the estimated life-savings associated with said donations” to the governor’s office and the legislature.

“All costs associated with the Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program will be done by the benefiting institutions of the program and their affiliates — not by the Department of Correction,” noted the bill, HD 3822. “There shall be no commissions or monetary payments to be made to the Department of Correction for bone marrow donated by incarcerated individuals.”

State Representative Carlos Gonzalez and Judith Garcia introduced the bill on Jan. 20. 

“In my view, there is no compelling reason to bar inmates from this,” Gonzalez said in a statement, per The Miami Herald. “Broadening the pool of potential donors is an effective way to increase the likelihood of Black and Latino family members and friends receiving life-saving treatment.”

“There is currently no path to organ or bone marrow donation for incarcerated folks in Ma – even for relatives,” Garica wrote in a graphic she shared on Twitter on Jan. 27. She added that HD 3822 would “restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow” and would “recognize incarcerated donors’ decision by offering reduced sentence.”

At least one prisoner advocacy group has raised concerns about the ethical implication of offering sentence reductions for organ and bone marrow donations. 

The policy director for the Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, Jesse White, said in a statement to McClatchy News that while Gonzalez and Garcia had identified a “significant” problem – that “racial inequity in [Massachusetts’] health system that has left BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted by organ and marrow shortages” – prison health care is not equipped for the proposed program. 

“We are concerned regarding the potential for coercion and impact of inadequate medical care in carceral settings,” said White. “We believe the solution must target the underlying structural problems leading to health disparities, including ongoing needless incarceration of so many who could live freely and safely in our communities.”

Michael Cox, the policy director for the LGBTQIA2S+ anarchist and prison abolitionist organization Black and Pink Massachusetts, called HD 3822 “unethical and depraved.”

“It is unethical to sell organs; it is unethical to incentivize the selling of organs for very, very good reasons,” Cox told Boston.com. He said incarcerated people are “a marginalized group in society, highly stigmatized and extremely vulnerable.”

“And so to incentivize the selling of your body parts in exchange for the most precious commodity in the world — which is time on this earth, and your freedom — was just so appalling,” Cox said. 

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act which prohibited “knowingly” acquiring, receiving, or otherwise transferring any human organ for valuable consideration.” The Massachusetts Legislature may need to consider if offering reduced sentences violates federal regulations.

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