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Kidney may be ticket off death row

February 04, 1998
By: Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If Chuck Graham gets his way, death row inmates would be able to trade their kidneys for their life.

Graham, D-Columbia, spent the last few weeks working on a bill that would allow a prisoner waiting for execution to offer a kidney or bone marrow transplant in return for a life sentence without the possibility of release.

"Why not a life for a life?" Graham asked. "This person's taken a life from our society, why don't we give them an opportunity to give a life back to our society?"

Graham, who describes himself as a death penalty supporter, said the idea has support from both sides of the debate.

But his idea prompted immediate opposition from two of the state's leading anti-crime figures.

The chairman of the Senate Crime Committee called Graham's proposal "off the wall."

Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, said the only way he'd support Graham's bill is if it required a heart donation.

Richard Callahan, the executive director of the Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said Graham's bill "unusual."

"I assume and hope that the motives behind the bill are good," he said. "However, there is an extortion aura about it that I find troubling."

Graham said it's an idea that has never been attempted.

He said he expected that it would be somewhat difficult for an inmate to meet the criteria.

"Not everybody's going to qualify," he said.

If passed, the bill would establish the "Life for a Life Program," which would give death row inmates the opportunity to participate if they satisfy the following conditions:

* They agree to donate one kidney or bone marrow for a transplant.

* They must have been on death row not more than two years, and not less than one.

* They waive the right to all future appeals of their sentence.

* They pass a physical examination.

Graham said he put a deadline for the inmate to decide in order to assure there was a true cost savings. Otherwise, Graham said, an inmate could spend years in expensive appeals before, at the last minute, taking the life-for-a-life option.

Two other representatives have signed on to Graham's effort -- Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis, and Mike Schilling, D-Springfield -- both death penalty opponents.

Graham said he didn't know which side of the capital punishment debate his unique bill would fall under, but painted a picture of a possible scenario if the bill becomes law.

"Instead of having three executions in August, maybe we'll have three transplants."