Ohio Delay in Execution of Ronald Phillips

Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced last Wednesday that he has postponed Ronald Phillips' execution date until July of next summer in order to investigate whether the convicted killer’s organs can be donated to family members.

Phillips, the Cleveland Plain Dealer yesterday reported, was sentenced to death in 1993 for raping and killing the 3-year-old daughter of his girlfriend and was denied clemency by Kasich on November 7th. His execution has drawn some notice over the past months as he would’ve been the first person put to death in Ohio using a new and untried lethal-injection cocktail consisting ofmidazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. With execution postponed, Dennis McGuire may become the first inmate put to death using the new cocktail. McGuire, a Preble County man convicted of raping, choking and stabbing a pregnant woman in 1989, is scheduled to die Jan. 16, 2014.

Phillips had initially approached The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction earlier this week, which denied his of seeking to determine whether he would be a viable organ donor to his mother, who has kidney disease, and his sister, who has a heart condition, according to the Associated Press. Phillips is also willing to donate organs to other people if he couldn't help his relatives, his attorney, Lisa Lagos, told the AP. Lagos said the request wasn't a delaying tactic but an attempt by Phillips to make a final gesture for good. That request had been denied with the DRC saying it wasn’t aware of any other time that an Ohio death-row inmate has made an organ donation, according to spokeswoman JoEllen Smith, although noting that it has happened in other states such as California, where a SFGate article back in April 1995 reported convicted killer Steven Shelton’s donating one of his kidneys  to save his mother's life after his brother, Nelson Shelton, also sentenced to die for beating a man to death after an 18-hour drinking binge in 1992, first offered but was not a compatible donor, was executed in March. Steven Shelton was scheduled to die April 5, but received a stay because he has not exhausted his appeals. That article proceeded to say that “that transplant is not the first from an inmate to a relative, but it was believed to be the first time an inmate condemned to die has donated an organ. Officials at the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington and the United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va., knew of no other death row transplant cases.”

The issue isn’t really that unique as Gov. Kasich said in a statement to the Associated Press that he “realized 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, and said he wanted to allow time for medical experts to study whether Phillips could donate non-vital organs, such as a kidney, before being executed.” It did open questions, though.

A Columbus Dispatch article this morning said “questions abound after Gov. John Kasich’s unprecedented decision to postpone Ronald Phillips’ execution: Who pays his transplant bill? What are the ethical and logistical concerns? Will anyone want organs from a child rapist/killer?

“Halting an execution to allow an inmate to donate his organs is unprecedented in the United States, leaving even experts such as Dr. Robert Higgins, director of Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, at a loss about what happens next.“It raises ethical and moral dilemmas and will require some deliberation,” he told The Dispatch. “It’s unclear how the process will move forward. That’s a logistic nightmare."

Other media sources raise questions about the practicality and ethical hurdles imposed as well. An NBC News article yesterday categorized it as a “a proposal that experts say would be a logistical nightmare and an ethical minefield,” and cites Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, as saying, “"The only options for executing someone to obtain vital organs is to either shoot them in the head or chop their head off and have a team of doctors ready to step in immediately. No doctor is going to do it," he said. "It violates all medical ethics and now you're making the doctor the executioner."

A  Fox News article relates “Some medical experts and others warn that execution chemicals could render organs unusable. They are also deeply disturbed by the prospect of death row inmates donating organs, even if it can ease shortages so severe that patients die while on the waiting list, questioning whether the condemned can freely give consent, or are desperately hoping to win clemency. They worry that such practices would make judges and juries more likely to hand out death sentences. And they are troubled by the notion of using inmates for spare parts.”