The Ministry of Justice on July 1 unveiled a mandatory preview of draft amendments to the Regulations for the Execution of the Death Penalty (執行死刑規則), which would remove articles governing the use of organs from executed convicts.
Although the use of organs from executed prisoners has been banned in Taiwan since the Human Organ Transplantation Act (人體器官移植條例) was amended in 2015, three articles in the regulations still contain rules that regulate the practice, the ministry said.
The articles state that an inmate awaiting capital punishment who wishes to donate their organs should sign a consent form and obtain approval from their spouse or a relative within three degrees of kinship; the execution should be carried out by a shot to the head in cases of prisoners who have consented to donate organs; and the body of an executed convict should be transferred to a hospital for organ removal surgery after they are determined to be dead.
Photo: Wu Cheng-fong, Taipei Times
Taiwan has not performed any organ transplantation from executed convicts in nine years, due to human rights and ethical concerns, the ministry said, citing as an example a controversy that erupted in 2011.
That year, five prisoners were executed and three of the bodies were taken to a hospital for organ transplant surgery shortly after execution, it said.
However, the incident caused an outcry from human rights groups, which said the organs might have been removed before the prisoners were legally brain dead, as the Brain Death Determination Procedure (腦死判定程序), issued in 1987 by the Ministry of Health and Welfare states that at least 16 hours of observation and two examinations are required before brain death can be declared.
Recipients of the organs could also develop stress disorder after finding that the organs came from executed prisoners, it added.
Another planned change to the regulations is a requirement for death row inmates to wear a hood during execution to make the job of the executioner less traumatic.
It is currently not compulsory for prisoners to wear a hood during executions, which are carried out by judicial police officers.
Being an executioner is an extremely stressful job that requires comprehensive training before and psychological consultation after an execution, said a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One of the major taboos of being an executioner is looking the person being executed in the eye, a judicial police officer responsible for executions said on condition of anonymity.
Amending the rules to require a prisoner to wear a hood would limit the chances of that happening, they added.
Another proposed amendment would require the ministry to consider other execution options to make executions more humane in accordance with international covenants on human rights.
Current regulations stipulate that capital punishment be carried out either by lethal injection or by shooting.
However, in practice, Taiwan has executed all of its death row inmates by shooting.
According to the rules, the person to be executed is injected with an anesthetic to render them unconscious before a judicial police officer fires a single shot from a pistol at the back of the prisoner’s heart.
If the prisoner has agreed to donate their organs, then the bullet is fired at the head.
Another proposed amendment would allow a prisoner who is about to be executed to leave a final message by audio or video recording, but it cannot be longer than 10 minutes.
The message is to be delivered to a designated family member or next of kin within 24 hours of the execution, according to the draft amendment.
Taiwan has 38 death row inmates, with the most recent execution conducted on April 1.
The ministry would hold discussions with experts and non-governmental organizations today before the amendments take effect on Wednesday.
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