Questions abound after Gov. John Kasich’s unprecedented decision to postpone Ronald Phillips’ execution: Who pays his transplant bill? What are the ethical and logistical concerns? Will anyone want organs from a child rapist/killer?
Halting an execution to allow an inmate to donate his organs is unprecedented in the United States, leaving even experts such as Dr. Robert Higgins, director of Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, at a loss about what happens next.
“It raises ethical and moral dilemmas and will require some deliberation,” he told The Dispatch. “It’s unclear how the process will move forward. That’s a logistic nightmare."
Higgins, a cardiac surgeon who has performed transplants, is past president of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the national organization that coordinates organ donation and distribution. Currently, 120,597 people are on the network, including 3,508 in Ohio, waiting for transplants, mostly kidneys. Many die before their names come up for a match.
Phillips, 40, was to be executed yesterday for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. He had exhausted all legal appeals and was moved Wednesday to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville to await his execution.
But less than 18 hours before his scheduled lethal injection, Phillips got word that Kasich would honor his request to be given time to donate nonvital organs, including what he hopes will be a kidney to his mother. She uses a wheelchair and requires dialysis three times a week because of kidney disease.
Phillips could be allowed to donate one of his kidneys, a part of his liver, a lobe of one lung and bone marrow, likely in separate procedures, medical officials said.
Tim Sweeney, Phillips’ Cleveland attorney, said he met with the prisoner’s mother yesterday and she was “very touched and grateful that her son is willing to give this a try.”
The procedure must be performed at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, with which the state has a health-care contract. Guards would provide security in a section of the hospital already designated for inmate patients.
Phillips would be returned to Death Row after recovering from transplant surgery. Kasich set Phillips’ new execution date for July 2, 2014.
Prison policy says Ohio taxpayers will not pay for transplant surgery.
There’s a possibility the cost could be covered by Medicaid. Beginning on Jan. 1, Ohio prisoners will qualify for Medicaid coverage as part of Kasich’s expansion of the tax-funded health-care program for the poor and disabled.
Sam Rossi, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Medicaid, said that program will not cover the procedure for Phillips because organ-donor costs are ineligible. However, the transplant cost could be covered by Medicaid, or by private insurance, “contingent on the recipient’s coverage,” Rossi said.
In other words, if the organ recipient is covered by Medicaid, the program could pick up the tab.
Higgins said matching organ donors with recipients is a “very detailed and meticulous process that requires an extraordinary level of care.” He said prisoners are high-risk donors because they might have contracted HIV or other diseases while incarcerated.
Normally, the identity of a deceased donor isn’t shared with the recipient out of respect for the family’s loss, Higgins said. He said he is not sure how that would be handled in this case, if the recipient is someone other than Phillips’ mother.
Higgins said it’s important that the debate over Phillips’ case doesn’t overshadow public trust in organ donation.
“I wouldn’t want this to affect the value and appreciation we have for the courageous decision people make of free will out of altruism for society without benefit to them personally,” Higgins said.
Dr. Robert M. Sade, director of the Institute of Human Values in Health Care at the Medical University of South Carolina, approved of Kasich’s decision. “It would make sense to do that because his organs would be maximally used. ... It’s commendable for the governor to have given a stay for the donation of his organs.”
Sade acknowledged that “it might be an issue for the person who would receive the donation. ... The person might say, ‘I don’t want that kidney.’”
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT). Dispatch Reporter Catherine Candisky contributed to this story.
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