Explainer: The Massachusetts "Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program"

Explainer: The Massachusetts “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program”

If you’ve been paying attention to the news or social media this week, you’ve probably heard about the “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program” proposed by state lawmakers in Massachusetts. If the official name of the program doesn’t ring a bell by itself, a description of the program probably will: Lawmakers want to make it possible for prisoners to reduce their prison sentence by donating their own bone marrow and organs.

As you might expect, the idea of lawmakers using their power to encourage (or, perhaps more accurately, pressure) incarcerated people into giving up their bone marrow and organs to buy themselves a few more days of freedom was met with pushback. For example, Gizmodo‘s Jody Serrano described as the proposal “dystopian.” Others called it “unethical and depraved.” And FAMM’s Kevin King mockingly tweeted that it was a “good news, bad news” situation.

So, is the “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program” proposed by state lawmakers in Massachusetts really dystopian, unethical and depraved? In this short explainer, we hope to give you all of the information you need to decide for yourself.

Image courtesy of Tiiu Sild via Wikimedia Commons.

What is the Massachusetts Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program?

While the reporting and social media rhetoric about the Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program in Massachusetts has been a little dramatic, it has also been pretty accurate. As the bill, HD.3822, states, “[t]he 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 organs.”

Put more simply, incarcerated people in Massachusetts can reduce their prison sentences by 60 days every time they donate bone marrow or an organ. In fact, they can do it up to six times (or, arguably, seven if they’re okay with trading bone marrow or an organ for just five days off their sentence).

In theory, the bill isn’t as bad as it sounds. The idea of allowing incarcerated people to donate bone marrow or organs if they so choose isn’t a bad one. But the problem is that a lot of incarcerated people are willing to do whatever they possibly can to get out of prison sooner, including giving up as many body parts as they can. Taking advantage of their desperation, Interrogating Justice’s Peter J. Tomasek argues, seems a little gross.

Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes via Wikimedia Commons.

Will HD.3822 ever actually become law? Or are we making a mountain out of a molehill?

Despite the outrage and confusion in the news and on social media, the reality is that HD.3822 probably won’t ever become law. In fact, according to a tweet from FAMM’s Ring, there’s no chance for the bill to pass at all: “I thought this horrible idea was worth poking fun at, but people seem concerned it will pass. I give it zero chance.” With all of the attention the news and social media is giving the proposal now, zero seems like a spot-on prediction.

The Takeaway:

Long story short, HD.3822, the proposed legislation in Massachusetts that would create the “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program,” is as unbelievable as the news and social media has made it out to be. Perhaps there are good-faith motives behind the legislation. But taking advantage of a desperate group of already-mistreated people to get their bone marrow and organs is wrong. That’s why the President of FAMM gives the bill “zero chance” of passing.

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