Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

On the National Narrative of Morality

We tend to think of morality as being what is good and right, but of course that’s not necessarily the whole definition. More specifically, it can be defined as conformity to conventional and generally accepted rules of right conduct. Which makes sense, naturally. Society – the majority – supposedly determines cultural/national mores. Yet I don’t understand, then, how it is that the Republican party is so widely viewed as the party of morals and values. Whose values?

Only about 15% of American believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, yet pro-forced birth Republicans pretend to speak for what is right and moral in regard to reproductive rights, and people seemingly let them get away with it. They represent clearly, in my view, immoral viewpoints on a plethora of topics and issues, and yet somehow it’s Democrats and liberals who are more frequently perceived as having loose morals? Republicans generally support revoking a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, promoting or overlooking institutionalized racism, cutting spending for public works and programs that help disadvantaged people, opposing fair pay, preventing LGBT marriage and equality, dissolving unions, privatizing pretty much everything, preventing a large percentage of the population from having access to health care, letting corporations run wild at the expense of the public, maintaining and in some cases even strengthening the death penalty…

The list goes on and on and on. Numerous positions that seem to me to be clear violations of everything right, good, and moral. And plenty of Democrats buy into at least some of those, if not many. Remember how toxic Kerry’s position on the death penalty was back in 2004?

What started this rant (and that is truly all it is) was a column in the New York Times the other day. My mail piled up a bit, and I just got around to reading it. It’s called “Giving Life After Death Row,” and it is written by prisoner Christian Longo currently on death row who wants to donate his organs after he undergoes state-sanctioned murder (that’s my wording, not his). The guy killed his wife and three kids. Anyone who believes in the death penalty under any circumstances would say that this guy deserves it.

I happen to disagree. I don’t think any crime – even murder – gives the state the right to “kill you back.” As human beings, we are all born with inherent worth, simply by virtue of our being human. As far as I’m concerned, nothing we do in life can forfeit our innate worth as people. It is inborn, intrinsic to our very beings and essences, and not something which can be removed from us by any means. As beings with worth, I do not believe that anyone has the right to decide that someone no longer deserves to exist (except in rare cases of self-defense) – even if that someone violated someone else’s right to exist. And for the record, please note that the “immoral,” socially unacceptable viewpoint you are reading at this moment is posited by a relatively skeptical, cynical, misanthropic agnostic.

Still, the immorality of the death penalty is not really the issue I wanted to discuss for now. The article I linked certainly doesn’t disagree with it. The issue at hand is actually whether prisoners on death row should be allowed to donate their organs after they are executed. There’s apparently no US law against it, yet the prison system itself currently doesn’t allow it. Think of the lives that could be saved – all the people on waiting lists to receive organs – if this practice were allowed.

The fact that it isn’t allowed by prisons is simply ignorance piled upon ignorance.

The author of the article charitably suggests that there is a moral reason for forbidding these practices, due to a history in the United States of prisoners being experimented on abusively and inhumanely. That may be part of it, but I think the other reasons he elucidates are more plausible:

There is no law barring inmates condemned to death in the United States from donating their organs, but I haven’t found any prisons that allow it. The main explanation is that Oregon and most other states use a sequence of three drugs for lethal injections that damages the organs. But Ohio and Washington use a larger dose of just one drug, a fast-acting barbiturate that doesn’t destroy organs. If states would switch to a one-drug regimen, inmates’ organs could be saved.

Another common concern is that the organs of prisoners may be tainted by infections, H.I.V. or hepatitis. Though the prison population does have a higher prevalence of such diseases than do non-prisoners, thorough testing can easily determine whether a prisoner’s organs are healthy. These tests would be more reliable than many given to, say, a victim of a car crash who had signed up to be a donor; in the rush to transplant organs after an accident, there is less time for a full risk analysis.

There are also fears about security – that, for example, prisoners will volunteer to donate organs as part of an elaborate escape scheme. But prisoners around the country make hospital trips for medical reasons every day. And in any case, executions have to take place on prison grounds, so the organ removal would take place there as well.

New York Times

First of all, I find it horrific that lethal injections often function by introducing three virulent toxins into the system. It has been suggested by many that lethal injections are inhumane for a number of reasons, despite the ruling of our ever venerable and infallible SCOTUS. That aside, however, I find it galling that procedures are used which destroy possibly healthy organs which could potentially be donated to help people in dire need. And equally galling that other areas of concern could not be better controlled for so that death row inmates could make a final good contribution to this world if they so chose.

From Mr. Longo’s piece:

I am not the only condemned prisoner who wants the right to donate his organs. I have discussed this issue with almost every one of the 35 men on Oregon’s death row, and nearly half of them expressed a wish to have the option of donating should their appeals run out.

[. . .]

If I donated all of my organs today, I could clear nearly 1 percent of my state’s organ waiting list. I am 37 years old and healthy; throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste.

And yet the prison authority’s response to my latest appeal to donate was this: “The interests of the public and condemned inmates are best served by denying the petition.”

New York Times

If that decision was not purely unilateral, I’d bet money (if I had it) that it was near so. Although, truthfully, criminals are so demonized in this country that the public might well agree. It just seems to me that the morals in this country are wildly skewed – distorted beyond all sense of reason, in some cases. And although I cannot claim to know the politics of anyone involved in this particular decision-making process, I can’t help but think such policies are resultant of a very morally deviant mindset, which seems to be heavily backed by the Republican party. Keep in mind that I don’t mean morally deviant in the way that most of society might perceive it. All of this, of course, is purely editorial and my rather biased opinion.

But from an obj
ectively realistic point of view, even if you don’t want to blame Republicans for it, I don’t think you can tell me that this country doesn’t have a pretty perverted sense of morality in a lot of cases. Never mind that other nations do as well. And not that I think there’s any true universal sense of morality. But for crying out loud, in a supposedly civilized society, can’t we do a little better than this?

Maybe that is a condition of humanity, though.

I really don’t know.


  1. sricki

    I figure it will likely provoke argument. And yes, I know the diary is a disjointed RANT. I haven’t slept, and I work today, so I don’t know when I will get around to responding to any comments — but at some point this afternoon/tonight.

  2. jsfox

    a term that was more of a oxymoron than “moral majority?” And to say I am a little sick of Republicans and their Tea Party cohorts screaming about freedom and wanting to keep the Government out of their lives, but in the same breath wanting to take away freedom and insert government into the lives of everybody else would be an understatement.

  3. that of the 14 states that do not have the death penalty only one, Michigan, has a murder rate above the national average. Most of the non-death penalty states rank near the bottom.

    As to the main subject of this diary, organ donations by prisoners, I am hesitant to support it. On a practical level, how many of the 40-50 people executed each year will choose to be donors? Of those who do, how many will be suitable? Of the few that are left, how many will be a match for someone on the list? But my hesitancy isn’t caused by concerns over practicality. It offends my moral sense. Leaving aside the whole slippery slope issue, do we really want to harvest organs from people who are involuntarily put to death even when they agree?

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