Haley Barbour’s Last Stand: Organs for Freedom

Haley Barbour, Republican Governor of Mississippi, has proposed that a woman be required to donate her kidney to her ill sister in return for early release from prison. Gladys and Jamie Scott staged an armed robbery in 1993, netted all of $11, and were subsequently sentenced to prison, where they remain to this day, 16 years later. This is well known to anyone who has read a newspaper in the past few days.

Now, let’s set aside the fact that Gladys previously offered her kidney to her sister by her own free will, and did not require any sort of legal coaxing from Mr. Barbour. However, what Barbour is proposing in this absurd condition of release has to be seen in a greater context of American politicians that do not respect the bodies of the poor, particularly those that are minority and African American, and more specifically those that are female.

I was floored when I heard Barbour’s offer, and quickly had flashbacks of how indifferent the white Mississippi establishment is to the human rights of African Americans. Mississippi has a prison system that regularly imposes a systematic apartheid by disproportionately jailing African Americans to “protect the common peace.” Until recently, the Mississippi prison system segregated HIV patients from the general prison population, and excluded them from prison education and religious functions in an unethical attempt to control the spread of HIV. Next, they’ll be creating wards by health status.

This, in addition to Mississippi’s long segregated school system, privately created by Mississippi’s white elite in order to spare their children the misery of having to talk to black people. Mississippi spends three times as much on it’s prisoners per year ($18,000 per inmate), than it does on public school students ($7,901 in 2008).

Barbour’s matter of fact, legal, and thereby forced, organ transplant only serves to provide gross precedent to other forced procedures. It is vastly similar to Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo’s offer of $1,000 to female welfare recipients, in return for “voluntary” sterilization. Racists everywhere applauded the move, particularly those with the hopes of reducing or eliminating African Americans altogether.

Aside from the repugnance of Barbour’s absurd, and likely illegal, offer, the implications of the ability of the state to coerce invasive medical procedures are frightening, particularly when levied on people who have little ability to refuse.

A long debate in the world of medical ethics is whether to allow people to sell their organs for profit. We already allow people to sell plasma, and a trip to the local plasma center will quickly provide insight into who is selling. To this day, Iran (big surprise) is the only country which allows the buying and selling of organs for profit, but, given the calls of free marketers in the US, it would not be surprising to see an industry arise here in the United States as well.

Arguably, this whole affair is theater in order to generate publicity for a Presidential run on 2010, but in the mean time, Barbour might do well to visit China, where forced organ trans plantations among prisoners are commonplace. The Chinese have even opened a market for organs to foreigners with sufficient amounts of cash. Perhaps it could be a boon to the Mississippi economy, Mr. Barbour.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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