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Execution Conflicts with Medical Ethics

David Nelson, a 51-year-old convicted murderer, was scheduled for execution in Alabama on December 8, 1996. A last-minute stay by the Alabama supreme court delayed the execution so that Nelson could donate a kidney to his brother, Louis Nelson, who lost a leg to diabetes and whose kidneys no longer function.

The court granted a three-week stay to allow doctors to evaluate the viability of the kidney transplant. But doctors at Vanderbilt Transplant Center, in Nashville, who are supposed to conduct the evaluation are troubled over an ethical question posed by such a transplant.

"Why do you allow someone to recover and be completely healthy before killing them?" said Dr. J. Harold Halderman, medical director of the transplant center.

The idea of removing an organ from the condemned man and then helping him to fully recover from the surgery only to have him then put to death was unsettling to physicians, who also wonder if Nelson is a truly "voluntary" donor.

"This sounds to me to be distasteful, and I'm not sure what we will do here," Halderman said.

The surgery would be performed by Vanderbilt doctors at a nearby veterans hospital where the infirm brother is hospitalized. However, the six doctors on Vanderbilt's kidney transplant team said they must resolve "ethical issues" before proceeding with an operation, Halderman said.

Associated Press

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