Organ donor wants to end her life to save others
MS patient wants to donate organs while still viable
Sherri Muzher is 43 years old. She's young, beautiful and brilliant. But she says she's ready to die.
She has advance stage Multiple Sclerosis. It has slowly, but steadily robbed her of her abilities.
All that's truly left of who Muzher once was is her brain and a small but fading voice. Now, she wants to use that voice to start a conversation about death -- her own.
"I would rather I help give life to others while my organs are still viable," said Muzher.
Sixteen years ago Muzher was bright and effervescent with an appetite for life. Muzher today is a much different person.
"I was diagnosed the summer after my first year of law school," Muzher said. "So it is a lot of loss -- loss with advanced MS. It's a grieving process, because you are losing your independence gradually."
About 90 minutes into the interview, Muzher became exhausted, barely able to speak, a restraint used just so she can sit up to breathe. Nearly the last shred of muscle and skeletal control is gone.
"It is my reality. I'm getting weaker. Weaker muscles on my talking, everything. This ultimately brings reality home," Muzher said.
She would like to control one last thing and that is the time of her death. She wants there to be harvesting of her vital organs while they are still salvageable.
She said it's already too late for her lungs. MS is already squeezing them shut, but her kidneys, liver, heart and every other inch that can save another life, or give quality of life where she has none, should be taken now.
"I ought to be able to donate my organs while they are still viable and can help someone else."
Muzher is talking about physician assisted suicide, in a state that voted it down.
Lance Gable, associate Dean and associate professor of law at Wayne State University, teaches bio-ethics and health law and reform, and specializes in end-of-life issues.
"I think she has a very compelling case," said Gable. "I think it's justifiable and understandable to minimize her own suffering and wanting to help others."
Gable's belief is that Michigan is what he calls "Kevorkian-scarred." He says Jack Kevorkian went about sending the right message in the wrong way. But he believes it's time to re-start the conversation, and Muzher is the one to champion the cause.
"I think it is a conversation worth having. It's an issue that if we approach it carefully, it's something that could be an option for people if it was done safely and wasn't susceptible to coercion and exploitation."
Four states, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana, have legal physician assisted suicide.
No states have addressed what Muzher calls provisions for planned pre-death organ harvesting.
"Anybody who wants to give a donation is a hero," said Richard Pietroski, CEO of Gift of Life, Michigan. "Only about 1 percent of individuals who die become donors."
Muzher has contacted him with her request, but Pietroski believes, given what she is proposing, asking for it would be difficult to envision how safeguards could be put in place to avoid abuse.
Medical ethicist Dr. Michael Stellini believes in a perfect world, if we allowed assisted suicide, organ donation would be viable and valuable.
"If we wait too long, she couldn't donate." Stellini said. "If we do it too early, she's not terminal, and that raises a whole other set of ethical issues. If we're going to allow physician assisted suicide, we'd have to determine a window to make the determination of terminal state, and the end of viability of the organs, and that's when we would do what she is proposing."
But Stellini said too much bothers him about this scenario.
"I'm not totally opposed to physician assisted suicide. I think there are issues with potential abuse with it," Stellini said.
His biggest concern is people and families who feel a sense of burden, hidden agendas, money, greed, hate and guilt. He's concerned with all those human facets that can't be screened with laws.
"One of the new dimensions that we'd have to consider is, would folks feel more coerced to go this route because there would be benefit for someone else?" Stellini said.
He believes the possibility of abuse and misuse is greater than the good that can come from this.
"Could those things be worked out? Yes. But they'd need to be worked out first."
Muzher said two other things need to be put in place are that the patient would need to be deemed not depressed or mentally ill. The decision must be their own and not a family member's.
But she'll tell you she's a realist. She knows this won't happen in her lifetime. Muzher believes that by the time her disease runs its course, it will have ravaged all of her organs, just as it has ravaged her, and she will have missed a great opportunity.
"I'd rather still be useful and help, rather than waste away and not be able to help," she said. "What will give me joy is to know I left a legacy of giving life to others."
When asked if she still has the ability at all to feel joy in any way, her answer was simple and succinct.