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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ronald Phillips: Beastly Criminal And Available Organs

What might you consider to be the most heinous crime? And, as you think about this, ask yourself, "What if something 'good' could result from the condemnation of the vicious animal who is convicted of committing this crime?"

I think many of us would agree that the ultimate evil is the rape and murder of a small child. Yet, it may be much more difficult to agree about whether some good should be permitted to come from this unspeakable tragedy.

"Ohio said Friday it was denying a condemned child killer's request to donate organs to his family members, saying he didn't have enough time to undergo the surgery and recuperate for his summer execution.

"Organ donation surgery would have to have been completed by this coming Sunday (March 23, 2014) to give the death row inmate, Ronald Phillips, enough time to recover before the July 2 execution, but Phillips had not shown he was anywhere close that happening, according to letters from state prison officials to Phillips' attorney.

"The state 'fully intends' to carry out Phillips' execution, Stephen Gray, the prison system's chief counsel, wrote to defense attorney Timothy Sweeney."

(Associated Press. "Ohio Rejects Child Killer's Organ Donation Request." 
Fox News. March 21, 2014)

Ronald Phillips, 40, is sentenced to die for the rape and death of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, in Akron in 1993. He was first scheduled to be executed November 14, 2013, at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Fae Evans, Sheila's mother, died of cancer in 2008. She’d been serving time in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville for involuntary manslaughter and child endangering for her role in her daughter’s death.

 Ronald Phillips


(Date of Meeting: October 16, 2013)

In testimony Phillips stated that, beginning at age four, he was raped by his father, and the sexual abuse continued for a period of one and one-half years. He claims at seven years old, he was raped by a cousin. Phillips indicated that his father physically and verbally abused him to the point where he ran away from home at age 17. He says he continued to fear his father even after reaching adulthood.

Phillips alleged that his mother did nothing to stop his father’s abuse. He described his mother as physically abusive toward him and his siblings and described how his mother would hit his older sister in the face and grab her by her hair. Phillips stated that his mother would hit him in the face with a belt.

Phillips said it is for that reason that he so deeply regrets doing to Sheila what was done to him. He insisted that he abused and killed Sheila because he was, at that time, a product of his own upbringing. Phillips related that he thinks about Sheila often. Specifically, he thinks about how Sheila would be in her twenties today and possibly married with children. She deserved better and did not deserve to die.

Phillips provided a detailed description of Sheila’s abuse and how it ultimately led to the girl’s death. Phillips described how he was pressuring Evans for anal sex when Evans introduced the idea of Phillips having anal intercourse with Sheila.

According to Phillips, Evans was involved. Evans was present for the first rape. He said Evans restrained Sheila and held the child’s hips up in the air while he sodomized the girl. One week later, Phillips again anally raped Sheila in Evans’s presence. Phillips raped the child a third time on January 15, 1993, three days before Sheila died, again with Evans present. A final beating by Evans on Monday, January 18, resulted in the child's death. (At one point while being questioned by a police detective, Phillips told the detective, "I don't want to go to jail; I don't want to get pumped in the butt.")

Fae Evans

Not Enough Time To Recuperate?

This particular judgment of Phillips and his coming execution has caused intense scrutiny of the justice system, punishment, and the role of corrections institutions.

Not enough time to "recuperate for execution"? This philosophy seems ridiculous until you consider harvesting his organs would require that the state kill Phillips before his date of execution in some semblance of a "murder for parts" that would surely be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said that it's considered "humane to have time to heal" and that Phillips is no different than any other inmate, meaning the state has an obligation to make sure he is healthy, despite the fact he will then be put to death.

Yes, that's what the law requires: a person, even a vicious killer like Phillips, must be "healthy" before the state can put that human to death. Oh, and I know what you're saying -- "Why not take his organs after his execution? After all, the monster will be dead then, and the physical remains could help someone else." Well, the situation is not this simple.

Let's stir the pot a little. Ohio is prepared to take Phillips' life with an untried method of execution. His scheduled execution has drawn national attention after the state said it planned to use a new combination of drugs for the lethal injection: the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

Ohio and other states have had to tinker with their execution protocols because the commonly used drug pentobarbital is in short supply after the manufacturer banned its sale to prisons for executions.

In effect, Phillips will become the state's "guinea pig" for the new "death drug cocktail."

"No other state has used these two drugs in an execution," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. Florida used midazolam along with two other drugs in an execution on October 15, 2013, but not with hydromorphone, he said.

Irreversible brain and heart damage will follow, and the inmate will die a few minutes later, said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist. The organs will likely be too damaged for transplant.

(Kim Palmer. "UPDATE 2-Ohio to Use Execution Drugs Combination 
Never Tried in U.S. Reuters. October 28, 2013)

And, there is even more of twist in the hangman's noose. A November 1 hearing to decide whether the new drugs could be used, Phillips told a judge via video hookup that he had a lifelong fear of needles and that prison doctors couldn't find veins in his arm during a checkup two weeks earlier.

"I guess the Lord hid my veins from them," Phillips said.

Phillips said he's had a fear of needles dating from childhood when his parents would sell drugs and let addicts shoot up in their kitchen in a tough neighborhood of Akron, Ohio. 

(Ohio Delays Child Killer Ronald Phillips' Execution to Study Organ Donation. 
NBC News. November 13, 2013)

Out of Appeals

Phillips was out of appeals in November when he made a last-minute request to donate his organs, including a kidney for his mother, who has kidney disease and is on dialysis, and a heart to his sister, who suffers a heart ailment. However, the heart transplant wouldn't be possible as the heart has to be donated while the person is alive, meaning a brain death is involved, and the person must be put on a ventilator.

Are you confused yet? So was Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Kasich delayed the execution until July 2, 2014, to give the state time to see whether it was possible to comply. Kasich said that while Phillips' crime was heinous, his willingness to donate organs and tissue could save another life, and the state should try to accommodate a donation.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said it had given Phillips a March 23, 2014, deadline to undergo the kidney transplant, or any other transplant, to family members.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction warned Phillips about the March 23 deadline in a letter in January, according to documents released by the state. At that time, Phillips made a broad request for harvesting his organs after the execution, but the state said it was not equipped to do so, and that the process may not be medically feasible.

"Mr. Phillips should be advised that despite his wish to donate his organs post-execution, his request may not be honored by any federally approved procurement and/or hospital transplant center," it said. The department did leave the door open for the kidney transplant and for the family to harvest any organs or tissue after the state handed over the body to them. As mentioned before, it is pretty clear that the organs will not be viable at that point.

The department also noted that as of January, the mother did not appear to be on a federal waiting list for organ donations and there was no request from a federally approve transplant hospital for Phillips to donate to her. 

Even though Phillips' request seems to be an effort to delay execution, his attorney claims Phillips has a sincere desire to do something good for society.

The Implications

What does all this mean in the long run? You judge. I would be very interested in your replies.

In, of all places, China, death-row inmates are allowed the option to donate their organs after death, and state press attests that 65 percent of the country’s transplantable organs come from China’s death row, over 90 percent of whom were executed prisoners. The Chinese government has long held that the use of any organ from a prisoner only occurs after full consent from the prisoner, including families when appropriate.

Watchdog groups believe that actual execution numbers greatly exceed officially recorded executions; in 2009, the Dui Hua Foundation estimated that 5,000 people were executed in China – far more than all other nations combined though Iran executes more prisoners per capita.The precise number of executions is regarded as a state secret.

Since 1949, the most common Chinese method has been execution by firing squad, which has been largely superseded by lethal injection, using the same three-drug cocktail pioneered by the United States, introduced in 1996.

Prisoners in China who are destined to become organ donors are executed via a temporal gun shot wound. The prisoners are declared dead secondary to execution, rather than the usual definitions of brain-death or circulatory-death, and transported to a hospital for organ procurement. This process has been described as “death-row inmates received unfinished execution in the surgery theater at the hospital, and their execution is continued after the firing squad and finished by the transplantation surgeons.

It may surprise you to know that the Chinese government has vowed to reduce dependence on executed prisoners for organ transplants. Earlier this year, former vice minister Huang projected that in two years' time, China's organ transplant system will no longer rely on executed prisoners. With low public trust in the government-run organ donation system, it is unclear whether the Chinese government will be able to meet its goal.

(Yaqiu Wang. "China Harvests the Majority of Its Organs From Executed Prisoners." 
The Atlantic. July 19, 2013)

In the United States, the number of patients on the waiting list for organs in the year 2006 had risen to over 95,000, while the number of patient deaths was over 6,300. This organ shortage crisis has deprived thousands of patients of a new and better quality of life and has caused a substantial increase in the cost of alternative medical care such as dialysis. 

("Organ Shortage Crisis: Problems and Possible Solutions." 
Transplant Proc. 40. Jan-Feb 2008)

In America, though 18 people die every day from a shortage of available organs, there are a myriad of ethical concerns opposing the practice.

Jenny Hollander, Bustle news director asks, "Could we develop into a society in which organs are viewed as more important than the people who house them? What would that lead to?" Still, she asks, “If these inmates are to die anyway, isn’t it pragmatic to consider respecting their wishes, and save the lives of decent, ordinary citizens to boot?”

If an inmate is given a more lenient sentence and agrees to become a donor, as some legislators have suggested, would this undermine the justice system?  Not to mention, some believe inmates are more likely to have infectious diseases, like hepatitis and H.I.V., and so may be less eligible for donation than the general population.

The details of preparing a body for transplant would also compromise the entire execution process: the U.S. would have to come up with a new set of rules and drugs for execution. Additionally, the flow of oxygen would have to be maintained after death for the transplants would be viable, meaning that the inmate wouldn’t, technically, die instantly. This would compromise the nature of a legal execution.

(Jenny Hollander. "Ronald Phillips' Execution Postponed in Ohio: Should He Be 
Allowed To Donate Organs?" 2013)

"It's unethical because this guy (Phillips) who's being executed raped and killed a 3-year-old. When you donate your organs, there's a kind of redemption," Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan of University of Pennsylvania said. "Punishment and organ donation don't go well together. I don't think the kinds of people we're executing we want to make in any way heroic."

Yet, it's not unheard of for a death row inmate to become an organ donor.

Condemned Delaware inmate Steven Shelton was allowed to donate a kidney to his mother in 1995, though his execution wasn't imminent.

In 1996, the Alabama Supreme Court halted David Larry Nelson's execution so he could donate a kidney to his sick brother. His brother was too ill for surgery and later died.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said the practice raises troubling concerns."Once you put the person into the death row or execution category, then their life becomes less in the equation of things," he said. "That's a slippery slope of one life being used to save another."
Meanwhile proponents for allowing death row inmates to donate their organs offer simple and logical rationale. One more organ donor means at least one life, and typically more lives, saved. They say, it is not necessarily, as some medical ethicists such as Arthur Caplan of University of Pennsylvania speculate, an attempt to “close the ever-widening gap between demand and supply of organs” in transplantation. It is, quite simply, to help individuals suffering from end-stage organ disease. The supporters say the center of attention should be the patient, and how healthcare providers can help them.

(Shu S. Lin M.D., et al. "Prisoners on Death Row Should Be Accepted as Organ Donors. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. Volume 93. June 2012)

The practical barriers include what is believed to be a low yield of transplantable donor organs from these prisoners, the concern over the quality of these donors, the perceived difficulty in carrying out the organ procurement in these executed prisoners, and potential lack of public support or acceptance of capital punishment. However, even opponents of this proposal admit that the practical barrier of not being able to meet the demands of organ donation is irrelevant in this discussion.

The ethical or moral concerns, on the other hand, involve two seemingly opposite rationale—the fear of coercion and the intention to preserve the morality of capital punishment.

The former insinuates that death row inmates are not being adequately protected, while the latter implies that the rights of these same individuals are given too much protection.

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act requires that all organ donation be provided without coercion. However, prisoners are particularly vulnerable to both direct and implied coercion, by virtue of their incarceration. The National Institute of Health explicitly acknowledges this coercion in its rules regarding prisoner consent: “Prisoners may not be free to make a truly voluntary and uncoerced decision… the regulations require additional safeguards.”

Specifically, the idea of preserving the morality of capital punishment stems from the belief that this type of donation is not consistent with the intended justifications of capital punishment, which some argue is to achieve retribution and deterrence in our society. Nonetheless, this line of argument, that donation “undercuts the morality of execution,” is challenged by various philosophy, ethics, and religion experts such as Gardner, Johnson, and Murphy.

(M. Garder. "Retritution, Deterrence, and Organ Donation." Am J Bioeth. 11. October 2011)

One blogger nicknamed "Dee" ( suggests that since Philips is alive, we should let him make this decision himself as his last personal act, and perhaps "his only opportunity to show remorse over the crime that put him on death row in the first place.”

The blogger continues: “I suggest that if he were willing to donate his brain to science so that they could study it to find out what turned him into the kind of monster that could rape and murder a three year old, then yes, maybe something good could come of donating at least one organ.”

I guess there is viable organ donation and dead tissue organ donation. A stance on parts of a monster living on in an innocent, near-death individual requires both logical and moral consideration. Very little thought needs to go into the possible value of performing a dead brain study. Organ donation, nonetheless.  

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