'I'm still grieving,' widow of assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Donald Low says
Published Monday, August 25, 2014 1:49PM EDT
The widow of late infectious disease specialist Dr. Donald Low is sharing her husband's story with the public, hoping his case will help sway the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down physician assisted suicide laws.
Speaking at a news conference at Toronto City Hall on Monday morning, Maureen Taylor said her late husband would be awed by the progress made toward decriminalizing assisted suicide in the year since his death.
"I'm still grieving for my husband and I think I will be for my whole life," Taylor said.
"But I can say with certainty that Don would be encouraged and surprised at the discussion and movement that's taken place on the issue of assisted dying."
Her husband was diagnosed with a brain stem tumour in February 2013, and died Sept. 18, 2013 at the age of 68.
Eight days before his death, Low made a video advocating for physician-assisted suicide. In the video, posted online, he called on opponents of doctor-assisted suicide to "live in my body for 24 hours," because it would likely change their minds.
"I'm just frustrated not being able to have control over my own life, not being able to make the decision for myself when enough is enough," Low said, explaining in the posthumously-released video that he would have liked to decide how and when he would die.
Taylor, who was joined by a group of doctors and representatives of Dying With Dignity Canada Monday, said her husband wasn't worried about dying or the pain of dying, because he knew he'd be provided pain killers.
Instead, Taylor said Low was focused on the effects of losing control of his body, including becoming unable to communicate with his family, burdening them with his everyday care, and his path toward what he expected would ultimately be an undignified death.
Although her husband died of natural causes, Taylor said she was sure he had contemplated suicide, but didn't kill himself because, "he didn't want to put his family through the horror of a violent suicide."
Low's statements in his final interview are echoed by Linda Jarrett, a 66-year-old woman with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. The disease has no definitive cause, no cure, and though the prognosis varies by patient, it will end with loss of control over the body.
Fighting tears, Jarrett said her disease is impacting her family life and her independence.
At the news conference, she said she hopes for a peaceful death assisted by a medical professional, but if it's not legal, she'll consider taking her own life – even if it means killing herself before she’s ready, while she's still physically capable of the act.
"I was able to ensure that my 14-year-old golden retriever had a peaceful and dignified death surrounded by those who loved her. I can only wish the same kind of death for myself."
Next steps for the assisted suicide argument
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is taking the case for physician-assisted suicide to the Supreme Court of Canada starting on Oct. 15.
The lawsuit argues that the current laws criminalizing doctors who help competent people with serious, incurable diseases to hasten their deaths are unconstitutional.
The BCCLA's team of lawyers will argue that, in the days since the laws were written, there has been a shift in public opinion.
Earlier in August, the Canadian Medical Association voted overwhelmingly in favour of softening its ethical stance against assisted suicide. Delegates at the CMA's annual conference voted 90 per cent in favour of a resolution that supports the rights of doctors to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide aid to those who wish to die.
In June, Quebec became the first Canadian province to pass right-to-die legislation, but the federal government said it could challenge the legality of the decision.
The BCCLA will also argue that assisted suicide has been approved in other countries, and the programs have been rigorously studied.
"The regulation of assisted dying, rather than the criminalization of doctors, provides the best protection for Canadians," BCCLA litigation director Grace Pastine said Monday.