Convicted KIller Donates Kidney ( ? and ... !! )
Man Who Killed His Patients Can Donate Kidney, but He Must Get His Sentence First
Link to NY Times Article
By RONALD SMOTHERSPublished: December 28, 2005A former nurse who pleaded guilty to killing 29 patients at hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania has received permission to donate a kidney to an acquaintance in New York, as long as he first appears at his own sentencing.
The ex-nurse, Charles Cullen, 45, has been in prison for two years but will not be formally sentenced until next month.
He was found by authorities to be a match for the person in need of a kidney and has been judged to be sincere in his attempt to help the potential recipient. But he is still working out details with officials in the two states to allow the donation.
Mr. Cullen angered relatives of his victims earlier this month when he said he wanted to exercise his right to miss the sentencing - and not face the families of his victims - but would relent if the authorities permitted the transplant. He also said he wanted to be taken to New York for the procedure. Some of the families and authorities said they saw it as blackmail.
Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, after a series of meetings, has agreed to allow the transportation and transplant, but only after Mr. Cullen appears at his sentencing.
The sentencing is set for Jan. 5 in New Jersey Superior Court in Somerset County. Mr. Cullen is expected to receive a life sentence instead of the death penalty for agreeing to plead guilty and identify all of his victims.
"He will not have surgery before the sentencing," Mr. Harvey said after interviewing Mr. Cullen and meeting with prosecutors and the public defender in the case. "We are victim-focused and have factored in the feelings of the families of the murder victims who are angry and still grieving. They want the court and Cullen to know how much they hurt."
Before a final agreement, prosecutors have to sort out whether two more New Jersey counties will press charges against Mr. Cullen, authorities said. In addition, his lawyer has concerns about how the timing of his sentencing in Pennsylvania might affect the donation process.
Mr. Cullen pleaded guilty last year to intentionally injecting lethal doses of drugs into patients at a number of hospitals and a nursing home in the two states during a 16-year career. Early in the plea-bargaining process, he estimated that the number of victims could reach 40; so far, 29 have been accounted for.
The organ transplant offer arose in the last several weeks as he headed toward sentencing.
Dr. Andrew Klein, director of the transplant center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and chairman of the living donor committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation's transplants, said that such cases, involving convicted felons who want to donate organs, were "relatively uncommon." He and others acknowledged that there had been a number of cases in which inmates facing execution sought to donate organs; in some of those cases, the requests were seen by some as ploys to delay executions.
For his part, Dr. Klein said, "Because a person is sentenced to life in prison, I don't believe that that, in and of itself, should deny them the right to donate an organ."
But Dr. Mark Fox, chairman of United Network's ethics committee, questions whether any prison inmate whose life is "constrained in ways that yours and mine are not" can provide "free and informed consent."
According to Dr. Klein, there can never be complete assurance that any offer to donate an organ has not been coerced by family, friends or the hope of some forgiveness by society.
"Is it consent or other things driving this?" he asked. "The best you can do is try to determine whether it is sincere and there are no coercive events."
In Mr. Cullen's case, relatives of the victims questioned his motivation, accusing him of a play for attention and a ploy to avoid appearing at the sentencing. But Mr. Harvey said he concluded, after interviewing Mr. Cullen, that the offer was not a "publicity stunt." He said that he was convinced that Mr. Cullen's crimes stemmed from his view that he was "hastening the inevitable" for patients who he believed were facing months or even years of suffering and deteriorating health.
"He did not view himself as acting out of malice," said Mr. Harvey, "and it is consistent for someone who thinks that way to offer up his organs to end the suffering of another."
The man who would receive the donated kidney has not been identified by Mr. Cullen or state officials. But published reports have identified him as a relative of a former girlfriend of Mr. Cullen's, whose name is also unknown. Mr. Harvey said that New Jersey officials have confirmed that the scheduled recipient of the kidney is likely to die without the transplant and that Mr. Cullen is a compatible donor. These are two of the conditions that New Jersey courts require before allowing such donations by inmates of state prisons.
Johnnie Mask, the deputy public defender who has been representing Mr. Cullen, said that two technical issues remained before his client could accept the arrangement being offered by Mr. Harvey. He noted that prosecutors in Essex and Morris Counties in New Jersey were still trying to decide whether to waive potential prosecutions of Mr. Cullen in their jurisdictions and allow the scheduled Jan. 5 sentencing to satisfy those cases.
Mr. Mask said that he also wanted some assurances that Pennsylvania prosecutors, who are also slated to bring Mr. Cullen to their state for sentencing in murders he admitted to there, would not try to block the donation and transplant.
Mr. Harvey said he expected that the Essex County prosecutor would soon sign on to a single sentencing in Somerset County, and he has given Morris County prosecutors until Friday to determine whether they have a case which they could prosecute.
In Morris County, a family exhumed the body of a loved one, believing that the patient had been under Mr. Cullen's care at a hospital there, but initial toxicology reports were inconclusive. Mr. Cullen has denied any role in that patient's death, according to his lawyer, and prosecutors are awaiting the results of a second test by a private toxicologist before deciding how to proceed.