Should those who have taken a life – or suspected to have taken a life – be allowed to give the gift of life to another? Fotis Dulos’ family declares their commitment to having his organs donated after his January 30 suicide, but his charges as a suspected killer leaves the public wondering: what are the ethical and legal considerations that go into the final gesture of good will?
Dulos was arrested and charged with capital murder after his estranged wife and mother to his five children Jennifer Dulos disappeared from her New Canaan, Conn. home in May 2018. Her body has not been found.
Dulos took his own life while on bail and his family maintains that he had nothing to do with Jennifer's disappearance. They said they intend to move forward with a trial as if Dulos was still alive to clear his name. They also announced they plan to honor his memory in another way.
“His family … decided to donate his organs so that he will live on in some form in the assistance that he can provide to others in their own individual struggles,” his lawyer Norm Pattis told reporters.
It was not clear if Dulos' family was able to successfully donate his organs. But a spokesperson with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) told InsideEdition.com it requires more than just intention to have a deceased person's organs donated.
“Only about 1% of us die in a way in which we are potential organ donors – usually in a hospital on a ventilator,” UNOS spokesperson Anne Paschke said. “Many people who don’t qualify to be an organ donor can still donate tissue.”
Convicted killers, both on death row and serving life sentences, have also expressed their desire to become organ donors.
Longo, 46, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to killing his wife Mary Jane and three children, Zachary, Sadie and Madison, and then dumping their bodies in the Pacific Ocean in 2001.
Longo, who currently sits on death row in an Oregon prison, wrote in an Op Ed published by the New York Times he wants to donate his organs after he is executed. It's his “wish to make amends," he wrote.
"I understand the public's apprehension. And I know it could look as if what I really want are extra privileges or a reduction in my sentence … But I don't expect to leave this prison alive," Longo wrote in the piece, published March 5, 2011. "If I donated all my organs today, I could clear nearly 1% of my state's organ waiting list. I am 37 years old and healthy; throwing my organs away after I am executed is nothing but a waste."
The request sparked controversy at the time and was largely considered unethical and immoral by legal experts and medical ethicists.
"I don’t think we want to be the kind of society that takes organs from prisoners. To do so would be to use unfree prisoners as a means to an end," Dr. Paul R. Helft of the Charles Warren Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics said to NBC News.
Prison officials have repeatedly denied Longo's request. While capital punishment continues to be legal in the State of Oregon, there has been a moratorium on executions there since 2011.
Phillips was 43 when he was executed in Ohio on July 26, 2017 for the brutal 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans. He was 19 at the time of his sentencing.
Like Longo, he also had requested to donate his organs at the time of his execution. Within 24 hours of his lethal injection being scheduled, originally for 2013, Philips’ attorneys expressed his request to donate a kidney to his ailing mother and his heart to his sister.
His request was such a highly contested topic that he was given several stay of executions as lawmakers and medical ethicists debated whether he would be allowed to donate. They had originally looked into the feasibility of harvesting his organs after lethal injection, or removing non-vital organs and allowing him to recover before his new execution date.
Separately, Philips and other prisoners received other stays of execution when the constitutionality of Ohio’s lethal injection protocol came into question.
He was ultimately not allowed to donate his organs.
Once dubbed the "Killer Nurse," Cullen is a rare example of a convicted murderer allowed to donate an organ.
Cullen, now 59, is currently serving 18 consecutive life sentences at a New Jersey prison. During his 16 years as a nurse in various hospitals, he confessed to murdering up to 40 patients by administering overdoses. He claimed he killed out of compassion, but many of his victims were neither elderly nor terminal.
He was spared the death penalty when he agreed to cooperate with authorities and identify the dead. However, due to incomplete hospital records and what Cullen claims to be a foggy memory, some experts believe he is responsible for more than 400 deaths, which would make him the most prolific serial killer in recorded history.
But his involvement in healthcare continued after his arrest, when word got out that before his sentencing, he wished to become a live kidney donor to a relative of a former girlfriend. After many tests that showed he would be a perfect match, a judge allowed him to donate the organ and the transplant went ahead.
Logistical issues ensued, as Cullen was allowed to have his organ harvested only at a New Jersey hospital, but the recipient was in New York. The procedure ultimately took place in New Jersey and the recipient was reported to be well enough to return to his Long Island home shortly thereafter. That man has never spoken publicly about the procedure.