Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Memory of Dr. Donald Low

Be utterly humble
And you will maintain your inner peace.
Be at one with all living things which,
Having arisen and flourished,
Return to the stillness they came from,
Like a healthy and vigorous plant
Falling back to its root in winter.
Quiet acceptance of this return
Is criticized by some as "fatalism".
But fatalism is an acceptance of mortality,
And to accept mortality is to face life with open eyes.
To deny mortality is to face death blindfolded.


Dr. Donald Low was the microbiologist in chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto. Canadians first became acquainted with him during his updates to the public during the SARS outbreak in 2003, which eventually killed 44 people in Canada and nearly 800 worldwide. 

Since that time he has been the voice and heart of public health in Canada. He was a warm, caring man who represented the very best of his profession. He died September 18 of a malignant brain tumor, and the week before his death made this impassioned plea for the right to die with dignity.

Medicine looks at death as the enemy, and so it should in people who are still capable of enjoying life, or to whom life, even a life of suffering, holds meaning. But death is not the enemy when your body fails you and your only experience is helplessness, dependence and pain. Then death can be a blessed release, a "falling back on the root" for a winter's season.

It's time we cast aside the argument that allowing terminally ill patients to choose to die with dignity creates a "slippery slope" which will create death squads that descend on the disabled and elderly. If the law is written properly the request would have to come from the patient, be submitted formally a number of times to a hospital committee and an interview conducted to make certain there's no coercion involved. And if death with dignity is denied based on the premise that only God can take life - well, if you carry that argument to its logical conclusion, no country which imposes that restriction on death-with-dignity would go to war.  and that is certainly not practiced.

Dr. Low died in the arms of his wife, blind, deaf and paralyzed. The death he feared. We're kinder to our pets.

1 comment:

SMM said...

Sadly this a discussion that needs to have happened and guidelines that long ago needed to be made available. I don't think it is the medical community that really is the stumbling block. I think big drug companies who fear loss of money for share holders and religious folks who fail to practice compassion as part of their godliness that stop individuals rights to decide when enough is enough and quality of life has ceased to exist.

The Doc was thinking of everyone not just himself and that is the sign of a whole human being. The world needs more like him.