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Alabama prisoners' organs vanish, and there's a whole lot of passing the buck (al.com)
136 points by Jimmc414 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments





Related:

Case of Alabama prisoner’s missing heart is dismissed. His heart was never found. 4/25/24 https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/2024/04/case-of-alabama-p...

Alabama prisoner’s brain missing after UAB autopsy, says family 2/14/24 https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/2024/02/alabama-prisoners...

UAB stealing dead Alabama prison inmates’ organs after autopsies, families claim in lawsuit 4/18/24 https://www.al.com/news/2024/04/uab-stealing-dead-alabama-pr...

Alabama House passes bill to make it felony to retain organs from autopsy without consent 4/25/24 https://www.al.com/news/2024/04/alabama-house-passes-bill-to...


To be very clear: not for transplants, but for training med students.

> The students were told the removal of organs were part of autopsies required by law for prisoners. They were told that using them for teaching future physicians “benefits future patients,” and if organs weren’t used they’d be thrown away and would serve no useful purpose.


And also to be clear, “vanish” from people who died in state custody, post-autopsy—not from people who are currently prisoners. And “vanish” to the same medical training uses as non-prisoners’ donated organs.

The (very reasonable) question being whether it’s appropriate for the warden rather than the family to authorize the donation, when family is in the picture.

The title seems to willfully invoke the far more sinister “organ-harvesting” trope that’s alarmingly a live issue in other carceral systems to this day [0], but that’s not what the article’s actual allegations describe.

[0] e.g. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2021/06/china-un-hum...


> The title seems to willfully invoke the far more sinister “organ-harvesting” trope that’s alarmingly a live issue in other carceral systems to this day

What's the functional difference between the two to the bereaved? I don't think finding out they waited until after the autopsy to steal the organs is comforting.

I would feel much better about the harvested organs of a loved one being transplanted to save a life vs being placed on a jar for medical students, I suspect most voluntary donors prefer their organs be used for transplants rather than medical training. So to me, what Alabama is doing is fat more sinister.


The concern is that a system that can use prisoners’ organs for transplants will want to do so more frequently, for profit. A motive for capital sentences.

Biological waste that was going to be disposed of isn’t as scary.


> Biological waste that was going to be disposed of isn’t as scary.

Why is this excuse fine for one practice and not the other?


For the same reason taking parts out of my car is less concerning when it’s in the junkyard instead of my driveway.

Wait: are you talking aboubt harvesting organs (from the dead) for transplanting vs teaching medical students, or harvesting them from cadavers vs living people? We may be having different conversations here.

>The title seems to willfully invoke the far more sinister “organ-harvesting”

No place on earth is more annoyingly finicky about headlines than HN.

Black market organ harvesting of live prisoners didn't even cross my mind when reading this headline. What makes you think they are willfully invoking that trope? The use of "vanish"?

Could you illustrate a better, but still concise, title?


> Black market organ harvesting of live prisoners didn't even cross my mind when reading this headline.

It's not that crazy: https://www.westernmassnews.com/2023/05/11/getting-answers-b...


It definitely is what I thought of and the headline is pretty clearly deceptively cultivating this response.

It crossed my mind, because it is strongly suspected that China does that to low-level political prisoners and members of despised minority groups.

2018: https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5250

2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/17/china-is-harve...


It's confirmed that, if you're executed by the state for treason there, you become an organ donor as part of that deal. Waste not and all that.

The speculative part is where people start making organs the main point of the whole thing, it has a great ick factor if you're doing nationalist flamewars.


“Deal” implies consent. But it’s also a dangerous financial incentive. Oh innocent? Humm, I can make 10k from his organs if that evidence gets lost.

Of course nobody consents to being executed.

There are numbers on how many people get executed there: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_China#...

It seems unlikely that the person making prosecution and judgment decisions is also in a position to personally acquire and sell the person's organs but hey what do I know.


There is no speculation needed - the perverse incentives are a matter of fact. Whether it has happened yet or not is academic. Sure, by some miracle the government resists them for now, but that panglossian optimistic view still leaves it a ticking timebomb.

I recall reading report of exactly this at least 25 years ago, with grainy images of soon-to-be-executed folks standing in the row on some field, blindfolded, hands behind the back. Families got receipt for the bullets. And just on the side stood ambulances ready to take whatever was good and sell it to whomever would pay enough.

I don't think they stopped, just got smarter about it, if done organized en masse the amount of money is insane for people who don't earn so in their entire lives. Nobody sane will brag how they got new kidney from shady chinese guys when this was well known.


Just to clarify, in this scenario where the state is harvesting organs for transplantation (a complicated medical procedure), you are saying that the methodology employed was to do it en-masse outdoors with guns (with cameras present), as opposed to individually in a hospital?

No, it's constantly accused of such by the Falun Gong (a religious cult that officially believes that David Copperfield is a real wizard), and a lot of western governments looking for something to attack China with amplify the accusation without any evidence. A good way to do that is to cite the conclusions of an "independent tribunal" that no one had heard of, whose only concerns are spreading the consensus about the evils of China and the Chinese, and who are mysteriously funded.

Western governments attack enemy regimes by funding religious cults (with associated militias) like MEK and Falun Gong (which are allowed to have multiple OTA TV channels while the Chinese government are banned from most of the internet.) They also fund fundamentalist Islam in northern Africa, and neo-Nazis in central Asia and eastern Europe.

It's important to dismiss "strong suspicions" from semi-anonymous sources and ask for actual evidence, circumstantial or not. Propaganda is supposed to be what we dislike about China. We shouldn't help spread innuendo if that's actually a value we have.


> It's important to dismiss "strong suspicions" from semi-anonymous sources and ask for actual evidence, circumstantial or not

I see plenty of evidence, though no "smoking gun," mentioned on Wiki, including "transcripts of telephone interviews in which hospitals told prospective transplant recipients that they could obtain Falun Gong organs" [1].

> A good way to do that is to cite the conclusions of an "independent tribunal" that no one had heard of, whose only concerns are spreading the consensus about the evils of China and the Chinese, and who are mysteriously funded.

This seems inaccurate considering the statements from from Amnesty International, the U.N. Human Rights Council, etc.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilgour%E2%80%93Matas_report#R...


Yeah, it also crossed my mind.

[flagged]


This looks like it’s a story about some Israeli individuals being arrested for organ trafficking, and not at all a story about prisoners in Israel having their organs harvested.

Sure, but I'd be absolutely flabbergasted if they didn't come from kidnapped Palestinians.

"used after death without family consent to train medical students" is much more accurate than "vanish".

Quite a few people hold conspiratorial opinions of organ transplantation, like that doctors won't work as hard to save people flagged as donors. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health...


I believe that "Alabama prisoners' organs used after death without family consent to train medical students" exceeds HNs title character limit, and it also leaves out the fact that the blame for it is being shifted around -- an important component (arguably the most important component) of this story.

I dislike the term conspiratorial since it’s so loaded.

That said, this is a topic from which much tears and ink have spilled forth into the world. On one hand, a good candidate for harvesting can give many lives. On the other, what is death anyways? According to what criteria? You are very much alive in order to donate. Brain death you say? How do we measure a consciousness? Do we even know what it is? When does the “soul” leave and a person becomes a nonbeing?

In hospitals I’ve been at a nurse can declare you dead if there are two nurses and they listen to your heart for a minute.

I think organ donation is a great good. I don’t think it should be a decision taken lightly or, worse yet, taken in order to stave off any appearances of appearing conspiratorial.


Maybe something along the lines of “When Alabama prisoners die, autopsies conducted without consulting families.” Or “When inmates die, Alabama donates their organs for research. Some families object.”

The idea being to preserve the substance of the concern—that families are being deprived of their legitimate say in the autopsy—without suggesting it’s more than it is.

“Prisoners’ organs vanish” suggests mystery, insinuates conspiracy, and suggests that the prisoners may be alive—none of which is borne out by the substance of the article.

Prisons exist to control people’s bodies, and I suspect this might be part of why, decade after decade, lurid allegations pop up about prisons (and hospitals, and orphanages, and asylums) violating prisoner’s bodily integrity while they’re institutionalized. Whether or not you put stock in the allegations, media outlets have for decades kept the story of “organ harvesting” from prisoners for transplant and for profit (and for the Bodies exhibition) circulating in the public imagination (e.g. [0], [1], [2])

The article’s allegations are about an ethical problem, but a subtle one to do with consent and postmortem bodily integrity—nobody’s suggesting that Alabama is doing anything macabre to prisoners’ bodies beyond what routinely happens in autopsies. This is a “we should fix this policy default” problem, not a “body snatcher vanishes organs” problem.

[0] https://www.jstor.org/stable/41639005 [1] https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/unfounded-claims-organ-ha... [2] https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2021/06/china-un-hum...


All of your proposed headlines leave out a substantive component of the article: the blame is being shifted around and families are unable to find out who can be held accountable. In fact, I think this is the main thrust of the whole article! Unethical things are happening, and all of the agencies/bodies responsible are pointing fingers at another agency/body.

>“Prisoners’ organs vanish” suggests mystery, insinuates conspiracy, and suggests that the prisoners may be alive

I have no idea how the word vanish implies the prisoners were still alive. I'm baffled and that a few people have said the same.

>nobody’s suggesting that Alabama is doing anything macabre to prisoners’ bodies beyond what routinely happens in autopsies.

Indeed! And I don't believe the title implies otherwise. Unless the word "vanish" has evolved to somehow imply harvesting of live organs since I last read the definition.

Admittedly, enough people are saying it that I'm starting to think I'm the weird one for not assuming the word vanish implies harvesting organs out of live prisoners.


Words have meaning and meaning is important.

Yes, and none of the words in this title mean "illegally harvesting organs of live prisoners and selling them on the black market".

> The title seems to willfully invoke the far more sinister “organ-harvesting” trope

That's exactly what I thought this was about until halfway through the article - for-profit prisons expanding in another direction


The argument that organs would be thrown away otherwise doesn’t justify bypassing clearly defined consent and ethical standards.

I agree entirely; they're two separate things.

Was this unethical? Yes. Is it the darkly hinted about conspiracy to procure black-market organs some will read into the headline? No.


You'll need to point out this darkly hinted conspiracy in the headline. Nowhere is it implied that someone was killed for their organs. If this was happening at Johns Hopkins, it would certainly be a story. The fact that they are prisoners should be irrelevant.

It omits that the prisoners are deceased and uses the term "vanish" which implies it's not known where the organs have gone.

"Alabama prisoners' organs vanish, and there's a whole lot of passing the buck" could easily be "Deceased prisoners' organs taken by University of Alabama against families wishes" but that's not going to get the clicks.


> To be very clear: not for transplants, but for training med students.

And that is less worse because..?


Because "we took organs to divert into the black market" and "we let the med students poke around during the routine autopsy for training" are very different things?

Not all that different of those are just two ways of saying "stole a person's organs".

Sure, in the same way murder and manslaughter are related, but different in very key ways.

Med students are just the least-bad black market customer.

Both is unethical and criminal at the same time. Only because someone was accused of a crime, that doesn‘t give you the right to steal from their dead bodies like this

Never can be sure, plausibly deniability. If there was a trade going on were 5% were traded for transplants, it would be covered up that it's used for training med students.

These are people who died in prison and were sent off-site for autopsy. Organ transplantation is… unlikely.

But money changes hands?

Medical students can't be learning for free now.

Is there a line in the article I'm missing saying this?

"The prison system and UAB have an agreement for UAB to perform autopsies as an independent contractor. That agreement was filed as an exhibit in the new lawsuits. According to that document, the prison system pays $2,200 per autopsy and $100 per toxicology test.

"According to the lawsuit, UAB Division of Autopsy publications from 2006 to 2015 show that 23% of their yearly income comes from Department of Corrections autopsies"

https://www.al.com/news/2024/04/uab-stealing-dead-alabama-pr....


I’m not sure if $2,200 is a lot or a little but isn’t there some non-zero cost associated with facilitating, transporting, storing and performing the autopsies regardless of whether the examiner is paid or is a student? Eg clerical work, drivers, equipment, use of a vehicle, refrigerators, etc.

That's correct. I guess a benchmark we could use is $60, which is apparently what Planned Parenthood gets paid for the aborted fetuses that it gives away. Each fetus is reimbursable for reasonable costs incurred in the "transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue." https://oversightdemocrats.house.gov/planned-parenthood-fact...

That would be a very silly benchmark, as no one has to conduct an autopsy there.

Autopsy pricing isn’t hard to find. https://www.etsu.edu/com/pathology/forensic-center/documents... says $4k; https://www.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/Faq.aspx?QID=302 says $2.5-5k.


They'd be having the autopsies regardless. They're not the issue.

> All people who die in custody have an autopsy, multiple prison officials testified in a federal court hearing earlier this year.


I meant to ask the question, and phrased it poorly.

> Stripped of humanity, exploited for labor or whim or scientific advancement because – because we can call them criminals instead of people. > > It’s as simple as that.

Ah yeah. I'd like a rapist to be called a criminal. For victims, you know.

It's also as simple as that.

Now should a rapist's schlong be used for scientific experiment? I mean... I'd joke that at least we'd be sure he wouldn't use it to do mischief anymore but I understand it's a bit harsh. It's not what we're talking about here: it's about harvesting organs from dead people.

But the point would be better made if some compassion was shown towards the victims instead of only ever showing compassion to the criminals.

FWIW there are western countries where the corpse of any dead human being can be used for scientific experimentation, unless specified otherwise.

What about an article about that instead of an article lacking any compassion towards rape victims and parents of murdered kids?


Treating prisoners like animals isn't showing compassion for anyone, neither the criminals nor their victims. Refuting the claim that even criminals should be treated humanely by saying we should also show compassion for victims is not logical.

The victims of crimes absolutely should receive much empathy and compassion. They should receive free and unencumbered medical (including mental health), legal, and financial support to help them reconstruct themselves. Paid for by the community. They should be guaranteed safety, even more than the rest of the population.

That is compassion. Harvesting their aggressor's heart and brain for teaching purpose, on the other hand, is not.


> But the point would be better made if some compassion was shown towards the victims instead of only ever showing compassion to the criminals.

This is not about compassion for any criminals. They're dead anyways. This is about the families of the deceased who find that someone has been cutting away at their dead relative.


A person may become a criminal, but they will never stop being a person. Stop trying to find a way around human rights.

There's a conflation in the South between:

- Temporary civil death limitation on freedoms and rights for conviction of a crime

- Temporary punitive treatment including substandard healthcare, poor sanitation, , lack of climate control, lousy food, solitary confinement, unpaid forced labor, and lack of rehabilitation services.

- Permanent civil death and punitive discrimination in housing, voting, and job applications for the individual (if they were to serve their time and leave alive).

- Lack of professional minimal humanity shown towards the dead inmates' family who aren't necessarily guilty by association.


You can tell everything you need about a society from what they do to the people they have power over. The state has a RESPONSIBILITY to the people that they have taken COMPLETE CONTROL over. That isn't about compassion, it's about what kind of society you have.

> FWIW there are western countries where the corpse of any dead human being can be used for scientific experimentation, unless specified otherwise.

Examples?


>There is an international trend to move from explicit consent (opt-in) to presumed consent (opt-out) policies for deceased organ retrieval: Chile (2010), Finland (2010), Greece (2013), Uruguay (2013), Wales (2015), Colombia (2016), Iceland (2019), the Netherlands (2020), England (2020), Scotland (2021), and the province of Nova Scotia in Canada (2021) have implemented opt-out policies. Switzerland is presently considering it, and Australia, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Romania, and several states in the USA had been discussing this as well.[0]

[0] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.27.21262033v...


As far as I'm aware, none of the listed western countries (except Chile, whose status as a "western" country is dubious) allow the use of organs for 'scientific experimentation' without consent. Additionally many of the listed countries (Finland, Greece, ...) require attempts to ascertain consent for those organ donations, which means asking family members of the deceased.

You are right. I read the comment wrong.

What changes would you make to this article to show greater compassion towards the victims of violent crime?

> What changes would you make to this article to show greater compassion towards the victims of violent crime?

Your comment made me curious about Brandon Dotson's crime. I can't find a lot of info for it, I haven't started delving into legal databases, but I was able to gather several sources that state Brandon Dotson was sentenced to 99 years for a Class C felony (Burglary) + a parole violation. There might not even be other people involved in the crime he was convicted for. Sentencing someone to life in prison for burglary, even with a parole violation, seems needlessly cruel.

Alabama's sentencing guidelines for a Class C felony are between 366 days and 10 years. The man served 19 years (and is now dead).




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