Should a person who is dying of an incurable illness be allowed to donate his organs before the disease kills him? Gary Phebus who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) wants to do just that: donate his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, the whole shebang now. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord leading in most cases to complete loss of control of voluntary movement and which eventually kills the patient.
After his diagnosis, the Cherokee Tribune reports:
Phebus started researching online to learn about organ donation. He learned about the long wait people endure for an organ transplant and came up with his idea.
He decided to donate his organs, but he wants to do it now, which would kill him.
"I have a death sentence. It is just a matter of time," he said. "I know people are waiting on organs. If I am going to die, why not - while my organs are still viable - go ahead and save five to 10 people."
Phebus talked it over with his wife, Patti, and his four children. He said they all are supportive of the idea.
"I feel it is the right thing to do. There is a lack of organs. I don't feel like it is suicide," he said. "I am trying to give other people a chance."
ALS does not apparently affect the health of internal organs. On the one hand, it is certainly wrong to take a vital organ, even if given voluntarily, from a healthy person. On the other hand, Phebus is not healthy. In any case, harvesting organs from Phebus would violate the medical ethical principle: "First, do no harm." Phebus' generous impulse moves me, but I fear that honoring it would create dangerous precedents.