Canadian doctor makes posthumous assisted suicide plea (Update)

September 25, 2013 by Michel Comte

A Canadian microbiologist who reassured a frightened nation during the 2003 SARS crisis, has ignited a controversial debate with a posthumous plea on Wednesday for assisted suicide.

Dr. Donald Low of Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital died on September 18 at age 68, seven months after being diagnosed with a brain stem tumor.

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 said in the video, describing his failing health.

"Am I going to end up being paralyzed 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."

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

In the video, Low was critical of opponents of assisted suicide, and said it was 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, noting 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.

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

Since then, new 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."

Explore further: Canada to appeal ruling on assisted suicide

Related Stories

Canada to appeal ruling on assisted suicide

July 13, 2012
(AP) — Canada's justice minister says the federal government will appeal a British Columbia Supreme Court ruling that said federal laws banning doctor-assisted suicide are unconstitutional.

Quebec moves to allow assisted suicide (Update)

June 12, 2013
The government of Canada's mostly French-speaking Quebec province on Wednesday unveiled legislation allowing terminally ill patients to kill themselves with a doctor's help.

Canada court says suicide laws unconstitutional

June 15, 2012
(AP) — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled Thursday that Canadian laws banning doctor-assisted suicide are unconstitutional.

Most doctors oppose physician-assisted suicide, poll finds

September 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—Whether doctors should help patients die continues to be a hotly debated topic within the medical community, a New England Journal of Medicine poll finds.

Australians should have the right to choose assisted dying, groundbreaking report says

April 26, 2013
Assisted death should be available to people with incurable and terminal illness who persistently request it. This is a key recommendation of a report from leading academics released today.

UK court rules against euthanasia (Update)

July 31, 2013
A British appeals court upheld a law against euthanasia in rejecting appeals from two severely disabled men who argued that doctors should be allowed to legally kill them.

Recommended for you

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

Best of Last Year – The top Medical Xpress articles of 2016

December 23, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—It was a big year for research involving overall health issues, starting with a team led by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health who unearthed more evidence that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.