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Doctor makes posthumous plea on YouTube for assisted suicide

Dr Donald Low died eight days ago – but before he did, he recorded a video pleading for laws to be changed to allow for assisted suicide.

Dr Donald Low
Dr Donald Low
Image: Screengrab via YouTube

A CANADIAN MICROBIOLOGIST who reassured a frightened nation during the 2003 SARS crisis, ignited a controversial debate with a posthumous plea for assisted suicide.

Dr. Donald Low of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital passed away on 18 September at age 68, seven months after being diagnosed with a brain stem tumour.

Eight days before his death, he recorded a video — just released on YouTube — pleading for Canada’s laws to be changed, so that he and other terminal patients could choose the time and manner of their death.

Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal in Canada.

“I’m going to die. What worries me is how I’m going to die,” he says in the video, describing his failing health.

Am I going to end up being paralysed and have to be carried from the bathroom to the bed, am I going to have trouble swallowing… what the end is going to look like, that’s what is bothering me the most.


(Video: Cancer View Canada/YouTube)

He noted that palliative care made death “a bit easier to face,” but could not take away his symptoms.

Low in the video was critical of opponents of assisted suicide, and said it wss an option he would have availed himself of, had it been legal.

I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours and I think they would change their opinion. I’m just frustrated not being able to have control over my own life, not being able to make the decision for myself when enough is enough.

“Why make people suffer for no reason when there’s an alternative. I just don’t understand,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government has no plans to reconsider the issue, reminding that a majority of parliamentarians voted in 2010 to maintain the status quo.

“The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities,” said MacKay’s press secretary Paloma Aguilar.

And we “have no intention of reopening this debate,” she said.

The law

Low’s plea comes 20 years after the Supreme Court rejected the legal challenge of one terminally ill patient Sue Rodriguez’s against physician-assisted suicide.

Since then, several more challenges have been filed across the country.

A court in westernmost British Columbia last year struck down the ban calling it discriminatory, disproportionate and overbroad. The federal government is appealing the ruling.

Quebec unveiled in June a proposed law to allow doctor-assisted suicide, expected to be passed into law in the coming months, bumping up against the federal criminal law.

Low’s video ends with a message: “He did not have the death he had hoped for, but he died in his wife’s arms and he was not in pain.”

His wife Maureen Taylor described to public broadcaster CBC his last moments.

“I could hear his breathing, as normal, was very labored, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t hear it. And I turned back to him and he had one last breath and I held him and he didn’t breathe again anymore,” she said.

But I can tell you that was not a dignified death that he died.

- © AFP, 2013

Supreme Court: Ireland has a right to life, not a right to die >

Read: Taoiseach rejects plea to allow for assisted suicide >

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