Organ transplants

Ohio Governor Delays Man's Execution over Prospect of Organ Donations

At least it's all voluntary, for the moment


Ronald Phillps
Ohio Dept. of Correction and Rehabilitation

Ronald Phillips was supposed to die today in Ohio, sentenced to be executed for raping and killing a 3-year-old girl. He made an unexpected last-minute request: to donate his organs after execution. His attorney said in a letter that it wasn't a delaying tactic but an attempt to "do a charitable act," reported the Associated Press. Phillips' own mother could be a potential beneficiary of such charity. She is on dialysis for kidney disease.

Prison officials initially rejected the request because it was made so late they couldn't accommodate him. But Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced that the state will delay the execution until July in order to determine if organ donation is a possibility. The Columbus Dispatch reported:

Kasich's action is unprecedented in the nation in the case of an imminent execution, a death-penalty expert said.

The Republican governor said he halted Phillips' execution "so that medical experts can assess whether Phillips' nonvital organs or tissues can be donated to his mother or possibly others."

"Ronald Phillips committed a heinous crime for which he will face the death penalty," Kasich said in a statement less than 18 hours before the condemned man was to be lethally injected using two drugs never before used in combination. "I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen."

The governor said if Phillips "is found to be a viable donor to his mother or possibly others awaiting transplants of nonvital organs, such as kidneys, the procedures would be performed and then he would be returned to Death Row to await his new execution date."

A commenter at the Dispatch noted the connection between what may happen to Phillips and the "Known Space" sci-fi works of author Larry Niven, where the Earth's government used condemned criminals for organ replacements, ultimately leading to a repressive society where every crime was made a capital crime (for the sake of my future as a presidential candidate, I haven't read these works myself and am taking the explanation from Wikipedia).

Fortunately, given where real science is actually heading with bioengineering and 3D-printing new body parts, we won't likely be descending into Niven's scenario.

More Reason on organ donations, and the restrictive regulations that result in a governor hoping to get a condemned man's kidneys, here.

NEXT: Lockheed Martin Closing Plants, Cutting 4,000 Jobs

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wow. This guy is trolling and winning. Execution stayed until July?

    1. How does it take 8 months to determine whether organ donation is possible?

      1. No kidding. It usually takes about 10 minutes, max, to determine whether a patient is a candidate for organ donation.

        And this guy is a good candidate. If he were comatose from a motorcycle accident, it sure wouldn’t take until July to get the go-ahead to harvest.

        Post-harvest, of course, the organs are given a more detailed vetting. But harvest/don’t harvest? That is based on a very quick and superficial review of the patient’s overall age and health.

  2. sentenced to be executed for raping and killing a 3-year-old girl

    Didn’t he already get in trouble for donating his organ?

    1. I think this is going to be a consensual donation.

  3. Are they afraid that some portion of him will live on in the organ acceptor? Like… the soul of a killer was imbedded in a doll in Child’s Play?

  4. Larry Niven is taking notes.

    1. I think you have it backwards.

      I would be suggesting that organ harvesting be the method of execution if I had not read by Niven.

      1. I meant for his attorney. He’s suing the present for patent infringement.

  5. I’m not sure criminals have the most usable body parts. While I admit, some function is better than none, as a population, they do participate in high risk activities with regards to a variety of toxins and diseases.

    1. I worked for a transplant bank in college. Prison time was an automatic disqualification, they wouldn’t even bother to test.

      1. I did not know that. Prevalence/risk of disease?

        1. Yup. Presumed to have engaged in high risk behaviors like unprotected sex and IV drug use.

  6. He pleaded his belly/kidney.

    It’s always fun to see some modern variation on old common law tactics.

    1. That was an interesting tidbit of history.

      “the convict was granted a reprieve of sentence until the next hanging time after her delivery.”

      Wow, just wow.

      1. Another interesting wrinkle of law.

        Trial by battle has never been prohibited in America.

        The last time someone attempted to invoke a trial by battle was in 2002 when an mechanic in Swansea, England offered to fight a DVLA clerk to the death over a 25 pound fine.

        Because trial by battle is outlawed in Britain, the court was not amused and hit him with an extra 200 pound fine and 100 pounds in court costs.

        1. Trial by battle, eh? Would that be for civil matters?

          1. Based on my limited understanding of all of the legal nuances of old Germanic law, I think it probably wouldn’t be, but in this case, maybe an exception could be made. Who among us hasn’t wanted a chance to behead a DMV clerk?

  7. sentenced to be executed for raping and killing a 3-year-old girl.

    Jesus. I just can’t get past that part. W.T.F.

    1. Yeah. If he’s really guilty, execute him by removing his organs.

  8. for the sake of my future as a presidential candidate, I haven’t read these works myself and am taking the explanation from Wikipedia

    You haven’t read Niven? How do you expect to get the vote of hard science fiction geeks who disdain the pop culture sci-fi? If you’re curious, A Gift From Earth is both a decent read and the book of his where that subject is most prominent.

    1. I took the fantasy route rather than the sci-fi route as a nerdy kid. I realized after the fact that the sci-fi books were probably much better written. Ah well.

      1. The poor farmer boy was really the rightful prince all along.

      2. I very highly recommend Niven’s books and short stories. Not the recent stuff so much, but even some of that is decent.

      3. Terry Brooks didn’t just copy Tolkien, he perfected Tolkien, so its completely understandable.

        1. Brooks? That juvenile hack? Pfeh.

        2. I read the first two Shanara books when I was 13 and liked them. Should I bother reading all of them? Seems like you are saying yes.

          1. Heck if I know, I’m just trolling.

            I kind of liked the first two as well, but the third went into an environmentalist theme, and even as a young liberal I hated those Luddite primitives with a passion, so I never finished it.

            1. OK maybe not then. There are too many anyway.

      4. There’s plenty of well written fantasy out there, but I’d agree that as a whole SciFi tends to be more sophisticated and well written.

        1. The young girl’s first period leads to her powers developing. She is then told that all the women in her family have been witches for years.

          1. Most does seem to be either that or a Tolkien ripoff.
            And even more interesting stuff like Game of Thrones which I have just started reading is not exactly a shining example of English prose.

        2. To be fair, many fine writers crosses genres, Gene Wolfe and Greg Bear, come to mind. Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, I liked better than any of the science fiction of his I’ve read. Then there is Avram Davidson, whom I’m not sure ever wrote science fiction, but the man knew how to fuck with classic fable expectations with a deft hand.

          1. many fine writers crosses genres

            But none would write a grammatical error that large and stylish, that takes GENIUS.

          2. …many fine writers crosses genres…

            I bet they’re happy there’s an operation for that now.

            1. I’ve got a great quip for that, but I have to save it for the DiBlasio inauguration slash fic. Do not let me forget, its gonna be worth it.

  9. On a somewhat related note, the Institute for Justice reports that HHS is trying to change the rules regarding bone marrow donations in order to circumvent a recent court ruling allowing bone marrow donors to be compensated. They are seeking to reclassify bone marrow as an organ. Better that people die waiting for donations than somebody make filthy profits.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a link handy since it was on their Facebook page and I can’t access it at work.

  10. Also the fight on the drug cocktail he will be given is gearing up. European pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell the normal cocktail drugs for execution purposes.

    Ohio is a one-option state, so they can’t hang him or use a firing squad. Lethal injection seems like it would muck up the organs anyway.

    1. They take the organs before they actually stop the heart. This basically means that they would have to execute him in a hospital .

      1. Won’t removing the heart for donation have the desired effect?

        1. Doctors become the problem. He’d have to be on a bypass machine to remove the heart successfully, then it would have to be turned off to kill him. Since hooking him up to the machine will lead to his death, medical ethics kill in for a lot of medical professionals. (And many would be against a fatal harvesting of organs in the first place.)

          1. Couldn’t we find some amateur doctors who haven’t taken the Hypocritical oath?

            1. Might want to try Silver City, NM.

      2. They take the organs before they actually stop the heart.

        That’s the preferred method, but post-mortem harvesting also works.

    2. Re: the cocktail, I’ve never understood why they can’t just induce a fatal morphine overdose. By definition, it isn’t going to be painful, right?

      1. I’ve never understood it either. I think it’s wrapped up in the cruel and unusual provision. They sedative them, then kill them by stopping their heart.

        Ohio’s new cocktail is a sedative followed by a massive dose of a morphine analog.

      2. I’m all for making them as painless as possible, but I also think executions should be a gruesome as possible. Making it all clean and clinical makes it too easy for people to ignore. If we are going to have a death penalty, people should see what it really is: killing in cold blood (I’m not taking a moral position right now, that’s just what it is). Guillotine or firing squad seem like good compromise methods.

        1. (I’m not taking a moral position right now, that’s just what it is)

          Lol. No, of course not!

          “Executions should be gruesome and grisly and public because they are takings of life without feeling; with cruel intent. But I’ll reserve any moral judgment…”

          Very open minded of you.

    3. Any vet’s office has quarts of the stuff to do a euthanasia/execution.

      And it couldn’t be more humane. The subject is gone before the needle is empty, not a twitch.

      The whole foofaraw over drug cocktails, etc. has always mystified me. Just give a massive intravenous overdose of barbituates. And I don’t know why it has to be a doctor, either. This isn’t a therapeutic measure. Its like saying the inmates can’t play football unless they have an NFL ref.

      1. It definitely isn’t therapeutic, and neither is harvesting organs. Which is why you don’t have to be a licensed doctor to harvest.

  11. I’ve written my state delegate to request legislation to change Virginia’s method of execution to a topless mob that chases a man off a cliff like that scene from Meaning of Life.

    1. You assume most VA criminals are fit enough to run.

  12. The whole foofaraw over drug cocktails, etc. has always mystified me. Just give a massive intravenous overdose of barbituates.

    If you’re gonna do something as problematical as letting the largest organized crime gang (aka government) kill people they find inconvenient, seems like the most humane approach would be to give the convict a choice of a massive overdose of their favorite drug — morphine, heroin, etc.

    To make it even more merciful, they could make it so that any given injection has only a small chance of being the one with the lethal dose, say a 19 in 20 chance that they will have a great high and a 1 in 20 chance of death by OD.

    Of course, a society libertarian enough to do this would also be a society libertarian enough to not let the government, if any, kill anyone.

    1. Of course, a society libertarian enough to do this would also be a society libertarian enough to not let the government, if any, kill anyone.

      Yeah. Obviously there’d be no police or military in libertopia. It’d be a delightful 20 or 30 seconds in paradise before the guys with all the guns overran it and turned it back into fuckyoutopia.

      But I guess you only meant that libertarian society wouldn’t let the government execute criminals convicted of crimes. Which makes good sense. Justice demands that if you fuck a 3 year old and then murder him/her, society ought to erect you a safe and humane living quarters in which to spend the rest of your life, as well provide you the accoutrements of modern living on an ongoing basis so as to accommodate your dignity and humanity. Of course, finding people to voluntarily provide the means for that in a coercion-free society with no mandatory taxation might be difficult. In the absence of any volunteers, probably best to just let the convicted go. With any luck he’ll eventually initiate a violent encounter with a private citizen in circumstances where retreat isn’t a viable option and be met with lethal counter-force (well, presuming that lethal force is a proportionate response, anyway). Problem solved!

  13. Reason propagandizes in favor of for-profit prisons, but has qualms about organ donations by condemned prisoners?

    Commodification is commodification, my friends.

  14. Well, Kasich sold a prison to long time Reason supporter, Corrections Corporation of America, so it’s a truly patriotic thing to do.

    “Buy American!” “Everything is for sale!”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.