Better Healthcare for the Soon-to-be Executed?

by Fatima Badreddine

Robert  Moormann is scheduled to be executed this Wednesday, February 29th, for a crime committed on January 12, 1984. Dubbed as a “Shocking Arizona Murder Case” by AZCentral.com, Moormann killed his 74-year old adoptive mother by beating and suffocating her. He cut her body into pieces, which he disposed of in various garbage cans belonging to local businesses. At the time, he was technically a prisoner, for kidnapping and raping an 8-year-old girl, and out of prison for a “compassionate furlough.”( In 1984, compassionate furloughs were permitted for state inmates, allowing them to meet with a family member or spouse for a period of 72 hours.)

At trial, Moormann claimed insanity, a defense that the jury rejected. They found him guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. He has since been in prison, awaiting his execution for a crime that occurred 28 years ago. This past Friday, he attended a clemency hearing, where the clemency board rejected his petition.

Moormann’s health has deteriorated during his imprisonment. In 2007, for example, he had a major stroke. Last September, he was rushed to the ER for appendicitis and was given an emergency appendectomy. During his ER visit, physicians discovered that he had several blocked arteries in his heart, and so in November he returned for a quintuple coronary bypass surgery. (A bypass of more than four arteries is uncommon.) Less than two weeks ago, Morrmann was taken to the hospital again on the 16th because he complained of abdominal pain and was unresponsive in the prison infirmary.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating that death row inmates should not have access to health care during their incarceration. Access to health care is a fundamental human right. However, it seems counterintuitive, to say the least, to give a prisoner medical procedures to extend his life when he is scheduled to be executed the same year. Cynically, it gives the impression that he is being kept alive just to execute him at a later date.

The other problem is that last year our legislature decided to cut state-funded health care to save money. They decreased the number of people who could receive medical coverage under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (“AHCCCS”). They also decreased the amount of reimbursement provided to AHCCCS providers. So, while a death row inmate is given a quintuple coronary bypass surgery three months before he is scheduled to be executed, many law-abiding Arizona citizens are denied access to quality health care. This places a heavy economic burden on local hospitals, who have to foot a large amount of costs for people who cannot pay. (Banner Health Hospital reported a combined loss of $177 million in the last quarter of 2011.)

Again, I do not intend to argue that death row inmates should not have access to health care. My only goal in this article is to stress the inconsistency and inherent unfairness in these policies. The state cannot afford to pay for health care of its poorest citizens, yet it can afford to pay for more than one life-saving surgery for a prisoner who will be executed in less than six months. I understand that in the long-run it costs less to pay for medical procedures for one person than for several individuals, but a quintuple coronary bypass is not cheap. Since Moormann is scheduled to die, regardless of the outcome of the operation, isn’t there a better use of our state’s limited resources?

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