Alabama Prison System, organs, inmates

Alabama Prison System Faces Outrage As Multiple Lawsuits Allege Unauthorized Organ Removals From Deceased Inmates

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, which does autopsies for the Alabama Dept. of Corrections, is also under scrutiny.

In December, the family of Brandon Clay Dotson filed a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections and several other entities, alleging that upon receiving Dotson’s body, it was in an advanced state of decomposition and missing his heart. CBS News later reported in January that another claim was added to the lawsuit by the family of Charles Edward Singleton, who also passed away in an Alabama prison.

Singleton’s daughter asserted that when her father’s body was returned in 2021, all of his internal organs were missing. Attorney Lauren Fariano, representing the Dotson family, emphasized to the outlet that these incidents suggest a troubling pattern.

Now, as Andscape reports, there is an additional case with similar points. Kelvin Moore, a 43-year-old Black man, allegedly died in the Limestone Correctional Facility in Alabama of a fentanyl overdose. However, when his body was delivered to the care of his mother in Mobile, the family mortician made a gruesome discovery: All of Moore’s organs had been removed. Because Moore died in prison, his body was first sent to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where autopsies for the Alabama DOC are performed.

According to Brendan Parent, a lawyer and the Director of Transplant Ethics and Policy Research at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, “The idea that the warden of a prison is authorizing the recovery of bodies and of organs without that individual’s authorization during their life and without the family’s authorization is a total moral failing and probably a legal failing, too.”

Alabama’s prison system is also facing federal lawsuits. The Department of Justice is suing both the State of Alabama and its department of corrections, alleging that the conditions of many of the state’s facilities amount to a violation of the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional right to be exempt from cruel and unusual punishment. The trial is currently scheduled for November 2024.

The world got a glimpse of the living conditions of Alabama’s Donaldson Correctional Facility when in August 2023, an incarcerated person convicted of murder somehow live streamed on Facebook Live conditions inside the prison. This shed a critical light on Alabama’s prison system.

Fariano, a civil rights attorney based in Birmingham, is also investigating Moore’s case and she told Andscape her read on the case. “It’s a systematic abuse situation,” Faraino said. “UAB has been taking the organs of incarcerated people without family consent for years now, and we have a handful of families that have come forward who discovered that their loved ones were returned without their organs. But so many of these cases went completely unnoticed because families don’t typically think they need to do a second autopsy. Many of them can’t afford it, even if they wanted to.”

Fariano says that Black families are more at-risk of this happening, in part because much like the national statistics on mass incarceration, Black people are over represented in Alabama’s prison population. Despite only accounting for around 27% of Alabama’s population, Black people account for 56% of Alabama’s prison population. Fariano says that a 2021 law that was expressly passed to prohibit the practice of removing organs without consent was unambiguous, telling Andscape “It was very, very clear – a medical examiner may not take an organ without family consent.”

UAB released a statement saying that it was in compliance with the law. “We only conduct autopsies with consent or authorization,” the statement said. “The autopsy practice is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and staffed by credentialed physicians who are certified by the American Board of Pathology. In an autopsy, organs and tissues are removed to best determine the cause of death. Autopsy consent includes consent for final disposition of the organs and tissues. UAB is among providers that – consistent with Alabama law – conduct autopsies of persons at the direction of the State of Alabama.”

The family of Moore, meanwhile, is not giving up their fight, in part due to the dying wish of Moore’s father, Johnnie. Agolia Moore, Moore’s mother, told Andscape that her husband knew something just wasn’t right about how their son’s body had been returned to them. Agolia recollected Johnnie’s statement, “My husband was on his deathbed but he said, ‘Lo. There’s something wrong about what happened to Kelvin. It’s not right.’ He said, ‘Stick with it,’ and we’re going to stick with it.” 

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