September 24, 2013 7:14 pm
Updated: September 27, 2013 2:55 pm

What Dr. Donald Low taught me

assisted suicide donald low

Photo of Dr. Donald Low.

Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Dr. Don Low was an amazing teacher. I know this firsthand as I was one of his students for a brief time when I was in medical school doing an infectious disease rotation in Toronto. This was many years ago and unfortunately, most of the lessons he taught me are now remote memories.

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That was until this week. Yesterday I, like many Canadians, woke to a video Dr. Low made just eight days before his death. In it, he urged Canadian doctors, patients, and lawmakers to revisit the issue of assisted suicide in this country and come to a more mature, kinder decision.

As a doctor, I am indeed in favour of assisted suicide. Medicine is not a black and white profession. Our daily clinical decisions, by their nature, are paired with an ethical weight that cannot bear the brunt of a binomial nature of “right” and “wrong”. As physicians, we dwell in the grey areas of life which are messy and at times, ambiguous.

I welcome the day when there are clearer, kinder guidelines for patients and their families regarding end of life decisions. Death is a part of the treatment process. Physicians need to better equipped to help patients with terminal illness die with the dignity they so deserve.

As a daughter who watched her father die of colon cancer, I welcome the day when children like me do not need to make “that decision” for their parents; when a father need not suffer for the sake of a law that “protects the most vulnerable.”

As a citizen, I look forward to a time when my country is brave enough to insist upon an open conversation about the right to die; a conversation that currently is happening in secret hallways in hospitals and in whispers at bedsides across this great nation of ours.

Canadians, by our nature, are people who care about the plight of the suffering. It is woven into the fabric of our society and our politics. The right to die with dignity is an issue that we can no longer chose to ignore. When we ignore controversial issues and controversial treatments, they become a dangerous entity in our society. They become marginalized and performed in silence, in secrecy, and without the dignity openness brings.

And so, again, Dr. Don Low continues to teach despite the great loss he left in the medical community. Today, I have learned the importance of my own voice in this debate.

I am a doctor, a daughter, and someday, a future patient. The right to die is a discussion that needs to be reopened for doctors and Canadians like me. More than a discussion, the right to die needs to become a treatment entity for those in need. The health of our country depends upon it.

Video: The final message from Dr. Donald Low before his death has reignited debate about assisted suicide in Canada

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