On Prisoners’ Dilemmas

There’s an interesting story at CNN today. Two sisters serving life sentences for taking part in an $11.00 robbery are being released after sixteen years’ imprisonment. But there’s a catch. One of the sisters receives dialysis three times a week, which costs the state of Mississippi an estimated $190,000 per year. As a condition of release, the healthy sister has been ordered to donate a kidney to her ill sibling. The sister has consented (and in fact had previously offered to donate a kidney before the release was on the table), and once parole/probation arrangements are completed, the two intend to move in with family members in Florida.

The case of the Scott sisters has apparently been something of a cause celebre in Mississippi for some time. The sisters’ lawyer says the real issue should have been the severity of the sentence, and while I don’t know the details of the original crime, life sentences do seem draconian.

But I’m a bit more interested in the idea of the transplant as a condition for release. In practice, since the sister was willing to make the donation anyway, it may not be a big deal, but I wonder if it sets a disturbing president of clemency being offered to criminals who are willing to submit to being “harvested.” And from there, how far a step is it to harvesting becoming a form of “paying one’s debt to society”? This is already the case (at varying levels of coercion) in Thomas Friedman’s favorite autocracy, and this is the world of Larry Niven’s 1967 short story, “The Jigsaw Man.”

It’s an interesting — and discomfiting — world in which we live.



About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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