*Amid the celebrations last week when Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences given two Black women for their involvement in an $11.00 robbery was lost a striking condition of the governor’s order. Barbour bowed to pressure from activist and civil rights groups who argued the life sentences represented racist Southern justice.
However, in his official order, Barbour ignores the apparent inhumanity and implied racism of giving two young Black women life sentences for an $11 robbery. Instead, he says his decision to suspend the sentences was based on the facts that Jamie and Gladys Scott had already spent 16 years in prison and Jamie, 38, now needed a kidney transplant. Barbour then makes as a condition of Gladys’ release that she must give one of her kidneys to Jamie.
Now, it must be acknowledged that it was Gladys who first raised the idea of donating a kidney to Jamie. But by requiring the donation of a kidney as a condition of being released from prison, Barbour (a potential Republican presidential contender in 2012) raises a major ethical question: Is it moral to require that a person give up a bodily organ as a condition for freedom.
Further, the order prompts the question: Even though the two are biological sisters, suppose a medical examination determines that Gladys’ kidney is not a good match for Jamie, will Gladys still be released from prison? It must be remembered that Barbour never acknowledges the apparent injustice of the life sentences. Instead, he suggests that he is suspending the sentences on humanitarian grounds.
Led by the NAACP, most civil rights groups were cheering last week when Barbour announced his decision. But virtually no one has addressed the moral issue his decision raises.