When he passed away last week, Dr. Donald Low was best known for his role in helping Toronto deal with the SARS outbreak in 2003, during which he oversaw regular updates to the public. But a video, recorded eight days before he died and released yesterday, may end up playing a bigger part in his legacy.
In the video, which was produced by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Low called for Canada to legalize the practice of physician-assisted suicide.
"'I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours," said Low, describing the difficulty of slowly losing vision, hearing and strength as his terminal brain cancer progressed. "What the end is going to look like, that's what's bothering me the most."
Low contrasts the legal situation in Canada, where physician-assisted suicide is prohibited, with that of countries like Switzerland or The Netherlands, as well as certain U.S. states, where doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal medication under certain circumstances. “In Canada, it’s illegal and it will be a long time before we mature to a level where we accept dying with dignity," he says.
Section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada states:
Every one who
(a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or
(b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide,
whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
"I'm not afraid of dying," Low said. "I could make that decision tomorrow. I just don't want it to be a long protracted process where I'm unable to carry out my normal bodily functions and talk with my family and enjoy the last few days of my life."
Low's widow, Maureen Taylor, told CBC News that although he wasn't in pain, Low's passing was not a peaceful one. "I can tell you that was not a dignified death that he died."