(AUBURN, N.Y.) -- Convicted rapist Kenneth Pike, of Auburn, New York, is expected to undergo a life-saving heart transplant that could cost up to $800,000 -- a price that will be paid courtesy of New York state taxpayers.
The expense has outraged many crime victim advocates and community members, who say they cannot understand how the justice system can provide big-tag services for convicted felons arguably at the expense of innocent patients.
"From a moral standpoint I think everyone should have a chance at life," said Carol Speach, a media sales professional in Auburn. "But realistically, I think no he shouldn't. I know innocent people with health problems who have medical bills coming out of their ears and can't afford it."
The question has been the talk of the small suburban New York town: Should taxpayers shell out for convicted criminals to receive services that some payers could probably never afford themselves?
"We do think that prisoners are treated much better than those on the outside," said Speach, who also suggested that Pike and his family should foot a larger portion of the bill.
"Everyone else is expected to pay for some of their health care," she said.
And the question of whether prisoners should receive equal, if not better, health care than law-abiding citizens has been the heart of a decades-long debate among medical ethicists.
Transplant centers have the right to turn patients away, but physicians are required to care for every patient they see, according to Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics and the Sydney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners were entitled to the same medical and dental treatment as everyone else in their community. Prisons that withhold necessary care from inmates can be held liable for violating constitutional bans against cruel and unusual punishment.
Pike, 55, was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage relative. He has already served 15 years of an 18 to 40-year sentence and is eligible for parole in 2013.
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