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Miss. governor will free convict if she donates kidney to sister

Parole condition raises ethics query

By Holbrook Mohr
Associated Press / December 31, 2010

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

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

Governor Haley Barbour’s decision to suspend the life sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott was praised by civil rights organizations and the women’s lawyer, who have long said the sentences were too harsh.

The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre in the state’s African-American community.

The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of leading two men into an ambush in central Mississippi the year before.

Three teenagers hit each man in the head with a shotgun and took their wallets — making off with only $11, the sisters’ lawyer said.

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

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 the kidney within one year.

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

Benjamin Todd Jealous, national president and CEO of the NAACP, thanked Barbour yesterday after meeting him at the state capital in Jackson, calling his decision “a shining example’’ of the way a governor should use the power of clemency.

Others are not so sure.

Arthur Caplan, the 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 never heard of anything like this.

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