Nightly News | December 31, 2010
KATE SNOW, anchor: We have a follow-up on a story we first told you about last night, a plan to release two sisters from prison in Mississippi after one sister pledged to donate a kidney to the other. Even though the sisters came up with the plan to donate the kidney, should the state sanction it as a condition for their release? Here's NBC 's justice correspondent Pete Williams .
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: The proposed transplant of a kidney has touched off an ethical debate after a decision by Mississippi 's governor. Haley Barbour ordered the release of two sisters serving life sentences for armed robbery , saying they're no longer a danger to society and one of them, Jamie Scott , will die without a kidney transplant . He said her sister Gladys should be released too after agreeing to be the kidney donor. Their mother told NBC 's "Today" program that it was Gladys who suggested it in the first place .
Ms. EVELYN RASCO (Mother of Sisters): My daughter Gladys stated in January, when my daughter Jamie kidneys first shut down, that she would be willing to give her sister a kidney.
WILLIAMS: But experts on medical experts say, despite the sister's generosity, a decision to donate a kidney should be entirely voluntary, with no conditions whatever.
Professor ARTHUR CAPLAN (University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics): The framework we have in place to try and avoid exploitation of people is voluntary choice. You don't get anything back for doing it except thanks. But when you start linking it up to shortening life sentences or prison commutation, I think you're changing the framework.
WILLIAMS: While Governor Barbour cited the danger to Jamie Scott 's health and the cost to the state of caring for her, the NAACP and other groups praised his decision. And some involved in the case say they believe the governor really did think their life sentences were unjust, but gave them medical reason for political cover. Experts on sentencing say governors have become more reluctant to use their pardon powers for fear of being labeled soft on crime.
Mr. MARC MAUER (The Sentencing Project): It's hard to read the governors' mind, but certainly, I think, most governors are aware of what they perceive to be the politics of these issues. And so they sometimes may be looking for other factors to make that decision easier for them.
WILLIAMS: Tonight one of the victims of the armed robbery says the sisters played only a minor role, and he says regardless of the medical issues, it's now time they were released. Pete Williams , NBC News, Washington.