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Assisted Suicide: Canada's Supreme Court Ruling Comes Too Late For Donald Low

02/06/2015 05:59 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Last summer as the Canadian Medical Association debated whether to drop its long-standing opposition to physician-assisted death, the organization's medical council watched a video.

It showed Dr. Donald Low, a key player in Canada's fight against SARS, arguing for the right to have an assisted death. Low was days away from dying of a brain tumour.

"You could have heard a pin drop in the room," said CMA president Dr. Chris Simpson, who suggested Low's heart-felt and logic-based plea had an influence on the assembled doctors.

"I have no doubt that having one of our colleagues, particularly a really respected colleague like Don, it probably did. It certainly made me stop and think," Simpson said Friday after the Supreme Court struck down Canada's law banning physician-assisted death.

"I think it was a really important part of the process of change that we've undergone. A touchstone."

Low's widow, Maureen Taylor, is heartened to hear the video may have softened the objections of some of his fellow doctors, though she wishes the option the Supreme Court said Canadians have a right to had been available to her husband when he died in September 2013.

"It still makes me angry when I think how pointless that all was, that he be made to see the whole thing through when we knew where the end was going," she said Friday.

Low was a prominent infectious diseases specialist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and director of Ontario's provincial laboratory. He was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer in February 2013 and told he had about seven months to live.

Low wanted a physician-assisted death.

"He put on a good show in front of the family, but he was always anxious about what death was going to look like. He wasn't afraid of death. He was afraid of the days leading to death," said Taylor, a physician assistant.

When it became clear the option was not open to him, Taylor asked Low if he wanted to film a video explaining why assisted death should be available to Canadians.

"And his response was 'OK, if you think anybody would care what I think,'" she recalled, chuckling. "And I just said 'I think they'd care.'"

"I thought that he was respected by other doctors and that was a video made with them in mind. And if that helped, if Chris is saying that helped, then I feel that Don would be really impressed and surprised by that."

Still, Taylor said the credit for the change in the law goes to Kathleen Carter, Gloria Taylor and their families and legal teams, "the people who did the real tough slogging."


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