03/20/2014 03:23 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Dying lawyer's plea for legal assisted suicide sparks positive response

TORONTO - A poignant plea by a dying lawyer for Canada to legalize assisted suicide has prompted an overwhelmingly supportive response in the days after his death in Switzerland.

The public plea by Edward Hung has struck a chord with many Canadians in light of their own personal or family experiences, colleague Jerry Leung said Thursday.

"For every 50 emails we get, there's one that's somewhat negative," Leung said.

"When I say negative, I don't mean that it's offensive; I just mean that they might share a different view of assisted suicide and they just wanted to voice their opinions."

In an open letter and video, Hung, 62, explains why he opted to die with help rather than continue living with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known as Lou Gherig's disease — an incurable and increasingly debilitating condition.

"My goal is to approach death with a purpose," the Toronto lawyer wrote before his death on Sunday.

"Having a goal has given me the peace of mind and has diminished my suffering by distraction."

However, his broader message — that people in similar straits should have a right to assisted suicide — shines through clearly at a time when the Supreme Court of Canada prepares to take up the charged issue for the second time in 20 years.

"I had the good fortune of having the support and resources to enable me to approach death in the way I wanted," he said in his three-page letter.

"Not everyone in our country is that fortunate ... this is just not fair."

In fact, Hung said, his pride as a Canadian had been dimmed given that he had to go on his knees and beg to die in another country given Canada's ban on assisted suicide.

He called it "an unjust law as it takes away our last right."

In the video posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toweqljuHm0&feature=youtu.be), Hung announces he has an incurable, terminal illness.

It's his right, he says, to put an end to his suffering and he expresses the hope that others will have the same right.

With his arms hanging limply by his side, he then offers a heart-rending version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

"It's not a performance, because I can't really sing like I used to," he says by way of introduction.

"It is a message and a gift to you for support."

Leung said he initially wanted to provide an outlet for people to express their feelings by having them send an email to edhung@torontolawteam.com.

However, he said he might contact some of the writers to ask permission to use what they wrote, possibly for court purposes.

"My intention right now is to forward what Ed wanted and get the dialogue going," Leung said.

Hung's plea echoes that made by a prominent microbiologist, Dr. Donald Low. Last fall, days before he died of a brain tumour in Toronto, Low made a video advocating for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

The issue has been debated for decades, but the federal government has made it clear it has no intention to change the Criminal Code.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to revisit the assisted suicide ban — likely in the fall — in a case involving two women, who have already died.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is pursuing the appeal, which seeks to allow mentally competent adults who are terminally ill the right to medical assistance to hasten their deaths.

"I like to do it my way and take with me the fond memories we have together and move on," Hung says in closing out his video.

"I hope you will support me."