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Lawmaker proposes organ donations from death row inmates

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Undated_Every year in Oklahoma, more than seventy people die while waiting for an organ donation.
So, a local lawmaker is proposing a new law to allow death row inmates the option to donate their organs.

The bill, from State Representative Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, would make Oklahoma the first state to allow inmates the opportunity to choice to donate.

One of every 1,000 Oklahomans is on a waiting list for an organ transplant. And while only 2 to 6 inmates are executed in Oklahoma each year, the new source would mean saved lives.

Dr. Richard Brittingham of Lawton is among those who oppose the idea.

"It is not going to work, and from an ethical standpoint, it probably shouldn't work. No state in the United States that provides for death row inmates to donate organs. So there is a major legislative issue that would have to be overcome," said Dr. Brittingham.

Brittingham says it could potentially tie the surgeon to the execution--- a connection that breaks a strong recommendation from the American College of Physicians that doctors not be a part of the process.  Brittingham fears the change could mean the beginning of a slippery slope.

"Once you allow this to happen, once it becomes the norm. It provides the baseline for further changes in ethics."

He says the law would also put the state in what he believes could be an awkward situation.

"If you make it possible for death row inmates to donate organs, then the state has a vested interest in death sentences. So, the number of death sentences may increase because of that, which is a major judicial and ethical issue," Brittingham said.

But, Representative Dorman disagrees. He believes that the proposed law could provide a new source of hard-to-find organs, providing a solution to a major need in the state of Oklahoma.

"We have to remember that these individuals are going to be executed. If they want to help save a life after they have taken a life, it should be up to them to make that decision. The state shouldn't block their ability to donate organs," said Rep. Dorman.

While Brittingham agrees the need is there, he says that this proposal isn't the right way to meet it.

"Taking organs from death row inmates is not that answer to that. More people being willing to donate their organs is the answer to that."

A single healthy person can save eight lives and help around 50 others with non-life threatening illnesses by donating their organs. So, even with only a few death row inmates opting to donate each year, the impact could be huge.

Representative Dorman plans to officially file the bill in December. It should be made public by January.

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