Donate Life

Gary Phebus wishes to help others before he dies

In the movie “7 Pounds”, Ben Thomas suffers extreme guilt after killing his wife and six strangers in a car accident caused by his negligence while texting.

Throughout the movie, Thomas attempts to reconcile for what he did by donating various organs to seven worthy strangers and ultimately makes an ultimate and controversial sacrifice. He takes his own life so that his heart can be donated to a woman with whom he’s fallen in love.

CNN recently reported a story about a man named Gary Phebus was aired. He is a victim of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A terminal and progressive neurodegenerative disease, ALS involves the deterioration of motor neurons. This eventually kills the neurons and disables all voluntary muscle movement, possibly causing complete paralysis. Once it reaches the lungs, the patient will eventually have to be on a ventilator to survive.

Gary Phebus has a rather unorthodox wish, somewhat reminiscent of the Ben Thomas character in “7 pounds.” Phebus wishes to donate his organs while they are still viable, and in this act, he would essentially kill himself.

At this point, Phebus is on a breathing machine at night, and has extreme difficulty breathing. He also has slurred speech, double vision, and various other debilitating symptoms.

However, unlike Thomas, Phebus has no guilt. He stated, “I’m not suicidal,” and that he would never take his own life. In Phebus’ case, a doctor would perform the operation, unlike Thomas who submerged himself in a tub of ice water with a deadly jellyfish and took his own life.

“I know that there is a matter of time before I die, and I wish to do a good thing for those who have a good life expectancy. To me its only common sense. I can’t take it with me, so why not give it to someone so that they can watch their loved ones or children or grandchildren grow up?” said Phebus.

Though it seems like a no-brainer to him, the medical world offers many complications to this noble wish. First, Phebus’ request would violate the dead donor rule. There are two types of “death.” The fist is brain death, when the brain is damaged so badly that it cannot function or support any other organs. However, organs can still be recovered if the donor is put on a ventilator and then the support is removed once the organs are procured. Vital organs such as the lungs, liver, and heart that Phebus would like to donate could be recovered in this case. However, because of Phebus’ condition and its affect on his lungs and breathing, he would most likely suffer “cardiac death” which is when respiratory and cardiac function cease. Five minutes after his declaration of death, organs could be recovered, but in this case, it is very unlikely to recover these vital organs. Especially the high-in-demand lungs that Phebus wishes to donate. For these reasons, Phebus wishes to donate before his death while his lungs are healthy and his other organs have a better chance of being viable and of use.

Though many straight-forward views see this as suicide and any medical professional performing such an operation would be taking part in assisted suicide. Phebus simply wishes to do a good thing, and said himself that he has a death sentence. ALS is an irreversible disease.

His whole family is behind him as well. Even if they weren’t, shouldn’t a person have the right to his or her own life? Just as if Phebus was on life support and he would have the choice if he wanted to be removed from it, he should have the choice now while his life essentially hangs in the balance. Especially since he can still do an incredibly selfless and noble thing for those in desperate need.

Some may worry that changing the living donor rule would be an excuse for people suffering from depression to take their lives in an attempt at suicide. If Phebus’ wish was possible though, it would only be for cases such as his: 100 percent terminally ill patients, preferably with no history of depression prior to diagnosis.

Anyone who watches Phebus’ interview can clearly see that this man has no intention of taking his life just to take it for his own personal emotional reasons. With everything in him he wants to help those around him while he still can, and make the most out of his life instead of watching it slip away. In his interview, Phebus made a comparison of his situation to a soldier.

“It’s like if you’re in a war…you’re sacrificing you’re life to save another…and in my case, I have a death sentence. And if all my organs are still viable as I was told, why not save other peoples’ lives? Because I don’t know when I’m going to’ go,” said Phebus.

Just like a soldier braves the battlefield each day knowing full well that they could easily die, Phebus has an even more certain death sentence. While a soldier sacrifices his or her life for others, Phebus is no different, except that he is assured death from his disease while a soldier still has chance at life. This is even more reason for Phebus’ request to be honored and considered.

The argument also exists that Phebus could have a long while to live. Maybe even over five years. But Gary could easily wait until a point in which the illness was soon to affect the organs he wished to donate and then make his sacrifice, giving him more time with family and loved ones if he desired. Still, he also doesn’t want his family to suffer through his suffering. He rather just do something good right away while desperate people need help fast; a selfless act.

Still, for those with a more post-conventional moral mindset, medical workers willing to redefine and alter the definition of death and donor criteria, and more selfless individuals like Phebus, perhaps we will see that this noble act is one worth considering alterations to the medical world and it’s ethics. Perhaps we will overlook the traditional and find ways to allow those facing death to give others the gift of life while there is still the chance.

Ferris, being a strong medically oriented school with our exceptional pharmacy, optometry, and allied health science programs, we will certainly be the ones making these decisions someday. Most likely altering the way the world thinks about medical ethics. Maybe, in our hands, someday Phebus’ wish will come true. n