SARS doctor Donald Low's posthumous plea for assisted suicide

In an impassioned YouTube video shot eight days before he died of a brain tumour, Dr. Donald Low, the microbiologist who helped guide Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis, makes a plea for Canada to change the law to allow assisted suicide.

In YouTube video, he says there's a need for 'dying with dignity'

In an impassioned YouTube video shot eight days before he died of a brain tumour, Dr. Donald Low, the microbiologist credited with guiding Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis, makes a final plea for Canada to change the law to allow assisted suicide.

“I know I’m going to die, what worries me is how I’m going to die,” the 68-year-old Low says in the video.

'I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours.- Dr. Donald Low- Dr. Donald Low

Low was the microbiologist in chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto.

After the 2003 breakout of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto, Low oversaw regular updates to the public about the syndrome, which eventually killed 44 people in Canada and nearly 800 worldwide.

He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer seven months ago and died on Sept. 18.

Doctor expressed worries of failing health

In the video produced by Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Low says he would have liked to have the option available to terminal patients in other countries where assisted suicide is legal.

“What the end is going to look like, that’s what's bothering me the most,” he says. “They give you a very simple way out. You drink a cocktail and you fall asleep and you do this in the presence of your family. In countries where it’s legal, it’s quite easy to do. In countries where it’s not legal, it’s pretty well impossible.”

Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal in Canada.

In the video, Low said he was not experiencing pain, but was losing his sight and other senses, and was worried about how his life would end.

He was afraid of paralysis, eventually not being able to swallow food, or use the washroom without assistance.

Maureen Taylor, Low's widow, described her husband's last moments.

"I could hear his breathing, as normal, was very laboured, 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 told CBC News.

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

In the video, Low makes a direct plea to opponents of assisted suicide imploring them to reconsider.

“I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours and I think they would change that opinion,” he said. “I’m just frustrated not to be able to have control of my own life. Not being able to have the decision for myself when enough is enough.

“In Canada, it’s illegal and it will be a long time where we mature to a level where there’s dying with dignity.”

A statement in the video says Low, “did not have the death he had hoped for, but he died in his wife’s arms and was not in pain."

A spokesperson from the Office of the Minister of Justice sent an email to CBC News on Tuesday, saying that the government has "no intention" of reopening debate on the laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?