Lamentations: On Ramiro Gonzales

Lamentations: On Ramiro Gonzales

Lamentations is a series of short reflections derived from a reoccurring conversation that takes place before every scheduled execution in the United States between prominent abolitionists Death Penalty Action Executive Director, Abraham Bonowitz and the Convener of Clergy United Against the Death Penalty, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood.

In 2001, Bridget Townsend was kidnapped and raped before being shot to death by Ramiro Gonzales. For these crimes, the State of Texas is determined to execute Gonzales on July 13, 2022. Those who have befriended and corresponded with him are adamant that he is a genuinely remorseful and caring person. The same person who declared him to be a future danger to society now asserts that such is no longer the case.

In conversation with Cantor Mike Zoosman about a member of Zoosman’s congregation in need of a kidney transplant, Gonzales offered his own kidney. He set out to explore the possibility and an evaluation by appropriate medical officials outside the prison system determined not only that he would be an “excellent candidate,” but that his rare blood type means that there are people on the waiting list for organ transplants whose chances of a match are much slimmer than usual.

Gonzales is up against the clock, and is determined to donate one of his kidneys. He and his supporters are asking Governor Greg Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles for more time to facilitate the procedure. Gonzales’ supporters champion his altruism. Gonzales’ skeptics argue that this is just another delay tactic. As for us, we have arrived at a slight divergence of opinions on the matter.

Dr. Hood (who also holds a Master of Science in Bioethics from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska) argues the following:

“While I can certainly respect Ramiro Gonzales’ desire to do something meaningful with the life/body that he has left, I am diametrically opposed to organ donations coming from death row. The reason that I have is simple, there is too extreme of a power imbalance for any ethical decision to be made/process to be followed. You see, death row is full of desperate people who could very easily be taken advantage of. Thus, death row could quickly become a hot spot for harvesting organs. Can you imagine if everybody started running to death row for all of their organ needs? Society sees these folks as subhuman anyways…so what would keep people from developing all sorts of methods of coercion to get the organs they need. Furthermore, imagine if people with certain rare blood types (like Ramiro Gonzales has) are particularly targeted. Plus, what happens when more people are sentenced to death with the idea that more organs are needed? I think it’s all a recipe for disaster. In fact, a simple Google search of ‘organ harvesting in Chinese prisons’ will reveal that the scenarios I describe are not all that farfetched at all…they’re already happening. Though I can appreciate the altruistic sentiments of Gonzales, I think it’s too slippery of a slope.”

Executive Director Bonowitz argues the following:

“That was my initial response as well. However, there is no government program for harvesting the organs of prisoners, there won’t be because we are not China, and that’s not what this is about. It is well documented how Ramiro himself came to this idea, the steps he himself took to become eligible to donate a kidney, and that there is no abuse or duress involved nor is anyone profiting. Also, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has a policy to allow organ donation by prisoners, but rejected the idea in Ramiro’s case because of the execution date, so the government is actively fighting this initiative.

“I’m personally a little bit closer to this issue. Close family members are genetic carriers for polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which most of them also have. I have seen how awful it is when one of those cysts bursts. I know people who have died because there was no transplant available to them. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 15% of the US population has chronic kidney disease of some sort. That means most of us know someone on dialysis who is looking for a kidney. Or they know someone in the business. I have a friend who is a dialysis nurse, and my dad was a nurse who worked a few years on a kidney transplant unit.

“The medical professionals who evaluated Ramiro and found him to be an ‘excellent candidate’ as a potential kidney transplant donor also see it as a life-saving initiative rather than anything in any way coercive. Additionally, Death Penalty Action staffer Alli Sullivan is a very close friend of Ramiro. DPA Advisory Board Member, Cantor Mike Zoosman, himself a chaplain at the National Institutes of Health, is also standing with Ramiro in this effort, as are his attorneys, because he has thought it through and the initiative comes from him wanting to be helpful.”

Though we found ourselves at an impasse over the kidney donation…we are united in lamenting that we are having to have this conversation in the first place.

We lament that Texas is executing Ramiro Gonzales. We lament that we haven’t been able to abolish the death penalty yet. We lament.

Sign the Clemency Petition for Ramiro Gonzales here.

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