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Dying is hard: “Let me save others”

In today's Spokesman-Review, Curtis Johnson wrote a powerful guest opinion column about his desire to end his own life through the Washington law that allows people to do so if they have six months to live.

His dilemma? He has rapidly progressing ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He would like to to donate his organs when he makes the choice to die, but the system won't allow it.

Johnson explained: My death could save others. Although my motor neurons are wasted, only my muscle tissue is affected. Otherwise I’m a perfectly healthy 55-year-old male. I exercised daily. My blood pressure is still 110/70, and my heart rate a steady 70. I have perfectly functioning lungs, kidneys, heart and liver. There are candidates out there who could use my organs to save their lives. But even as a living donor, I am excluded from donating anything.

The legal system has made it impossible for those with incurable neuromuscular disorders to donate organs to those who need them. Organ donation must be conducted in a hospital immediately following the donor’s death. You have to be brain-dead, in the hospital, and on life support while they harvest the organs. But euthanasia is not allowed in hospitals, ergo my healthy organs get flushed and at least four or five people die needlessly. So, in order to donate my organs, I have to become that living mummy, then die of starvation or suffocation in a hospital. Is that humane?

How would you answer his question?

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Spokesman-Review features writer Rebecca Nappi, along with writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., discuss here issues facing aging boomers, seniors and those experiencing serious illness, dying, death and other forms of loss.