Mark Pickup

September 16, 2013

I came across a headline that posed a bold idea: "Killing MS Patients via Assisted Suicide to Harvest their Organs?" As a theoretical question for provocative bioethicists to ponder or advocate, it may be interesting, but I live in the real world far from academia. The real world is being asked to answer that very question, by a woman with advanced MS.

Michigan resident Sherri Muzher (43) recently told a Fox News affiliate that she wants to have an assisted suicide and donate her organs for transplantation. She said it would be a "nice legacy to give" and that "We ought to be able to make our own decisions, and if that collateral effect means helping others, why would anyone have a problem with that?"

Sherri's proposal sounds so altruistic, so selfless and generous beyond measure.

Although the media said Sherri is terminal, MS cripples its victims but rarely kills them. I have had MS for nearly twice as long as Sherri; mine has reached an advanced stage too.

If Sherri's wish for an assisted suicide and donation of her organs were to happen, it would have awful implications for her in the short term and ominous implications for the futures of other seriously disabled people like me particularly with organ shortages intensifying.

Let's examine the reality of Sherri's assisted suicide proposal: If done by poisoning, there would be a high likelihood of contaminating her organs making them unusable for transplantation.

But let us pretend that somehow she was poisoned but her organs were not. There are some medical realities once she dies. After death there is no heartbeat, circulation or respiration, thus no oxygen for her organs. Without oxygen, irreparable damage would begin to occur to her liver and heart within four to five minutes and her kidneys by 30 minutes, quickly making them useless for transplantation.

A renowned medical authority I consulted for this column stated, "To make use of her organs the transplant team would have to insert tubes into her while she was very much alive." This would be painful. They would hover near Sherri, monitoring for her moment of death, then immediately plunge a scalpel into her chest and abdomen making an incision from collar-bone to pubis. The clock would be ticking.

Once they artificially oxygenate Sherri's organs, it would take about 30 minutes to remove her kidneys, three hours to remove her liver and about an hour to remove her heart. Recipients would probably be waiting in adjacent operating rooms.


Okay, take poisoning out of the scenario. If Sherri's death was achieved by organ removal while she has a beating heart, circulation and respiration, it would not be an assisted suicide as she presently envisions; it would be imposed death by a transplant surgeon.

Altruistic romance and sterile operating rooms are not a good mix, especially when death is the goal. Sherri's death would be achieved only upon the final removal of her heart. Her gutted and mutilated body would be returned to her family for burial or cremation.

The Sherri Muzher case would create the thin edge of a bloody wedge in North America. It would begin to establish a precedent for organ procurement programs to view people with severe disabilities as sources of much-needed organs. In case you think I'm drawing an extreme case, let me inform you that it's already happened in Belgium.

National Review columnist Wesley Smith chronicled this in an Aug. 30 column entitled "Hunt on for Disabled 'Euthanasia Organ Donors.'" He quoted a document from the 21st European Conference on General Thoracic Surgery that was held in the U.K. last May.

The document detailed how doctors euthanized "patients suffering from an unbearable neuromuscular or neuropsychiatric disorder with explicit wish to donate organs. Euthanasia was executed by an independent physician in a room adjacent to the operating room in the absence of the retrieval team."

In other words, suicidal people with physical or mental disabilities were killed by one set of doctors then their warm bodies quickly wheeled across the hall to another operating room where a different set of doctors began the harvest.

Will people with severe disabilities (like me) be considered commodities rather than patients in our own right? If this happens, people who are comatose will be at even greater risk and their families pressured to stop life-sustaining treatment or impose death.


The Sherri Muzher case would create a darker cultural deviation and open a Pandora's Box society will ultimately wish had never been opened. It will put other vulnerable lives at great danger and further strip our increasingly secular society of the ideal of the sanctity of every human life.

We must understand a truism of history: Human descent into the abyss of depravity and death is taken one step at a time. It might begin with good but misguided intentions but eventually ends with twisted evil intent masquerading as good.