Tennessee inmate asks to die to help ailing parents live

HICKMAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – An inmate housed at the Turney Center in Hickman County is asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to allow him the right to die in prison so his organs can be harvested for his ailing parents.

Kenneth Thomas, 37, is not ill. In fact, other than being asthmatic, he reports being in relatively good health.

Thomas was convicted of the 1999 murder of Andrew Titus who was killed during a north Nashville robbery.

Thomas, along with a two other men, were implicated. Thomas was sentenced to life in prison and is not eligible for parole until 2063.

All of his appeals for his conviction have failed and now Thomas has petitioned to be allowed to use euthanasia to take his life and donate his heart and kidneys to his mother and father.

The pleading is part of a larger 35-page letter asking to have his conviction overturned.

“I’ve finally come to the realization that I will never again leave prison alive,” he wrote in a letter dated May 15 toWKRN’s Joseph Pleasant. “As a result, today I requested of the Tennessee Supreme Court to grant me a ‘Death with Dignity’ in the form of euthanasia.”

WKRN reached out to the Tennessee Department of Correction, to find out what the state policy is for tissue donations from inmates who die in prison.

In a statement, TDOC spokeswoman Alison Randgaard said, “Physician assisted suicide is not legal anywhere in the state of Tennessee, including our prison system. In order to protect their privacy, the Tennessee Department of Correction cannot comment on the health history and treatment requests of specific offenders.”

Thomas’ parents declined an interview on their son’s request for euthanasia, citing their failing health.

Even if the state were to allow for euthanasia in jail, the actual transplantation of organs creates specific challenges.

According to Donate Life Tennessee, there are more than 2,800 people in Tennessee waiting for organ donations.

The organization has not been involved with Thomas’ request, but told WKRN directed donations, like the ones Thomas wants to make, take a lot of coordination.

“I don’t think most of the general public recognizes this is kind of a rare process, because most people, when they pass away, it is from cardiac death,” Public Relations Coordinator Steven Jamison said. “Your heart has stopped beating, so blood and oxygen has stopped flowing through your body. Right then and there, organ donation is typically not going to be an option.”

There is also the need for the organs to be a match so the transplant will be successful. A lot of the testing happens after the patient has passed away.

The recipients also must be on the transplant list.

There is a huge need for people to be organ donors and to be willing to donate a loved one’s organs if they are not on the list when they pass away.

“You are talking about 124,000 Americans waiting for a life-saving organ transplant,” Jamison said. “When one donor potentially can enhance or save more than 50 lives that is a pretty amazing amount of people.”

The most needed organ, according to Jamison, is kidneys and with livers coming in as the second most needed organ.

The Supreme Court confirmed to WKRN that it has received the request, but the court has not decided if it will take up the case.

It could take a few months before a decision is made. Then if oral arguments are heard, it could be another three to four months before the court issues an opinion.

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