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After living a rich and full life, 71-year-old Dr. Brian Davis has become the first Nova Scotian ALS patient to donate his organs following a medically assisted death.

YouTube video

He spent the final days of his life making arrangements with his family and his palliative care team to ensure his organs would go to people who could use them, and he expressed excitement about his plans, even though they included his own death:

With this difficult diagnosis that a person gets, it’s like there’s no good news, but now that I’ve inquired about being an organ donor, I think it’s great news. Wouldn’t you love to be leaving this beautiful world, but then sharing a life with a half a dozen people? I mean, a double lung, a heart, two kidneys, and a liver — when you think that you could share life with potentially several other people, that’s exciting.

In most cases, people who are candidates for medical assistance in dying are not healthy enough to be good candidates for organ donation, according to Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director of Legacy of Life, the branch of the Nova Scotia Health Authority that handles the province’s organ donor program.

Davis, however, was an avid athlete — he even ran the Boston Marathon in 2014 — and left behind some extremely healthy organs.

That would likely not have been the case if the disease was left to its natural progression. ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) impacts the brain’s ability to communicate with the body, causing physical degeneration as the muscles break down. Patients gradually lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, and ultimately to breathe.

Most religious denominations object to physician-assisted death on the grounds that to thwart God’s plan for one’s death shows disrespect for human life and cheapens its sacredness. But Davis lived an extremely meaningful life. More than that, he left the world having found meaning in his death, not in the promise of an afterlife, but in the good he could do for people living this life now:

I want to let every ALS society across Canada to know what people with ALS can potentially do, and I think it will make their journey a lot easier. Up until now, the only thing that kept us going was the hope there would be a cure discovered before we go. But now to know there is something so positive you could do, I think people will take it on when you think of the joy it would bring you to help others.

Davis’ family’s grief is tempered by the generosity of his decision to share his organs with other people. Said his stepdaughter Becky: “That is a gift I will carry, that my children will carry, and we will all carry it.”

If that’s not the epitome of respect for the sacredness of human life, what is?

(Thanks to Genevieve for the link)

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