National News

Widow fights for 'right to die with dignity'

By Anne-Marie Vettorel, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The widow of Dr. Donald Low, an infectious disease specialist who guided Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis, said she supports the "right to die with dignity," particularly after watching her husband gradually lose control over his body before his death.

Maureen Taylor's comments on Monday came as the Supreme Court is set to begin hearing a case on the issue in October.

Low, who died from a brain tumour in September 2013, made headlines with a video filmed eight days before his death in which he made impassioned arguments in favour of legalizing doctor-assisted suicide.

Taylor said that as a doctor, Low knew what was to come.

"He knew what the trajectory of his illness would be. He accepted quite readily that he was going to die," she said.

"The type of brain tumour that Don had, he knew as it grew it would leave him paralysed, unable to swallow, hearing and vision would be decreased if not lost altogether, and he'd be unable to communicate with his family at the end."

Low wanted to control the way he died, Taylor said, but there wasn't enough time to go to Switzerland where doctor-assisted suicide is legal, nor was there a way to legally obtain the necessary medications in Canada.

"Little by little we realized he wasn't going to have a peaceful death, and he was going to have to succumb to whatever was coming," she said.

Current laws, which make doctor-assisted suicide illegal in Canada, are unconstitutional, said Taylor.

"We just watched the anxiety that he had at the end of his life, that should have been spent just being with family, enjoying those days that he could enjoy," she said.

"Instead I saw him anxious, and not afraid to die but afraid of what the death was going to be like."

Taylor said she continues to face her grief in public out of love for her late husband, and because Low's voice commands respect in the Canadian medical community.

In June, the Canadian Medical Association voted to soften its stance on doctor-assisted suicide, stating that it is "the right of all physicians, within the bonds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide so-called medical aid in dying."

Taylor said that was "a huge turnaround."

"I'm hoping that the official policy will change as a result of that vote," she said. "It has to."

The issue will be argued before the Supreme Court in October as the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association seeks to challenge a ruling from last year in which the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld Canada's ban on assisted suicide.

The BCCLA said its lawsuit argues that the laws which criminalize those who help hasten death for seriously ill individuals are unconstitutional.

Assisted suicide is legal in countries, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as in Oregon and Washington in the United States.

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