Saturday, January 18, 2014

The ethics of incarceration...

The ethics of incarceration...  Sometimes these things can get quite difficult.  This is a real story.  A criminal is convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 14 years in a state penitentiary.  He develops heart disease that can only be treated with a heart transplant.  The heart transplant costs about a million dollars.  Should the taxpayers pay for his heart transplant?  And, even more difficult: should a criminal get a scarce transplantable organ when that bumps a non-criminal to a later slot (and puts them at risk of death)?

In the real world (well, if you consider California to be part of the real world), this actually happened – and the state's Department of Corrections decided to go ahead with the transplant.  There were non-criminals on the transplant list who were good matches for the donor heart.

If you think you've worked out the ethics of those considerations, try this variant: suppose the medical treatment in question were for a non-fatal condition.  Say, for instance, surgery to correct a limp.  If you came to a different conclusion on that, precisely how would you draw the distinctions between the two?

I'm going to add this to my (long) list of reasons to be suspect about the entire idea of punitive incarceration.  It strikes me as being one of those human inventions (like socialism, including its “progressive” variants) that demonstrably doesn't work and needs to be eliminated.  It's the sort of thing that makes me look fondly at societal banishment, such as the old English system of “transportation”.  At least we got America and Australia out of that!

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