- Associated Press - Thursday, December 30, 2010

JACKSON, Miss. | A debate is unfolding over an unusual offer from Mississippi’s governor: He will free two sisters imprisoned for an $11 armed robbery, but one woman’s release would require her to donate her kidney to the other.

The condition is alarming some experts, who have raised legal and ethical questions. Among them: If it turns out the sisters aren’t a good tissue match, does that mean the healthy one goes back to jail?

Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision to suspend the life sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott was applauded by civil rights groups and the women’s attorney, who have long said the sentences were too harsh for the crime. The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre in the state’s black community.

After 16 years in prison, Jamie Scott, 36, is on daily dialysis, which officials say costs the state about $200,000 a year.

Mr. Barbour agreed to release her because of her medical condition, but 38-year-old Gladys Scott’s release order says one of the conditions she must meet is to donate a kidney within one year.

Gladys Scott
Gladys Scott more >

The idea to donate the kidney was Gladys Scott’s, and she volunteered to do it in her petition for early release.

National NAACP President and Chief Executive Benjamin Todd Jealous thanked Mr. Barbour on Thursday after meeting him at the state Capitol in Jackson, calling his decision “a shining example” of the way a governor should use his power of clemency.

Others aren’t so sure.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied transplants and their legal and ethical ramifications for about 25 years. He said he’s never heard of anything like this.

Even though Gladys Scott proposed the idea in her petition for an early release and volunteered to donate the organ, Mr. Caplan said, it is against the law to buy and sell organs or to force people to give up one.

“When you volunteer to give a kidney, you’re usually free and clear to change your mind right up to the last minute,” he said. “When you put a condition on it that you could go back to prison, that’s a pretty powerful incentive.”

So what happens if she decides, minutes from surgery, to back off the donation?

“My understanding is that she’s committed to doing this. This is something that she came up with,” said Barbour spokesman Dan Turner. “This is not an idea the governor’s office brokered. It’s not a quid pro quo.”

What happens if medical testing determines that the two are not compatible for a transplant? Mr. Turner said the sisters are a blood-type match but that tests to determine tissue compatibility still need to be done.

If they don’t match, or if she backs out, will she be heading back to prison?

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