Dr. Donald Low, a Toronto physician who was a main player in the fight against SARS a decade ago recently passed away. He was a real hero whose level-headed leadership during the crisis was decisive in local public health's containment of and successful struggle again the virus. Beyond that he was am indefatigable teacher, prolific researcher and clinical, an inspiration to a generation of students.
Unfortunately life was not kind to him after that. He suffered from cancer and after a courageous battle with his brain tumour he recently succumbed at the young age of 68.
But in his final days he also had a dark side. Like too many unfortunate people who must struggle with painful illnesses at the end of their days it seems he seems to have decided that he should have had the right to end his life when the prognosis became hopeless and the suffering intolerable. To that end an interview from the final days of his life shows him expressing the view that assisted suicide should become a legal option for people in Canada. In the interview he noted that he was frustrated that the system couldn't accommodate him like it would have had he lived elsewhere like certain European countries. He lamented that the debate in Canada was so difficult to have on a "mature" level and opined that people who opposed him should have to live 24 hours in his body to see what real suffering is like. And naturally the liberal crowd which supports his position chimed in to support him.
Without meaning any disrespect to the dead, could Dr. Low have been any more condescending?
Consider how he set up the discussion. He implied that if you opposed him you didn't understand him. He came out and stated that mature discussion was difficult which means if you oppose him you're not capable of having that mature discussion. He felt that the last days of his life should have been enjoyable, something that all people wish for but so few get to have.
It is really not surprising that a significant number of folks in the Western world and especially in Canada are in favour of assisted suicide. We live in a culture where unborn foetuses live under constant threat of being aborted for such deep reasons as "Oops, I forgot to take my pill like I was supposed to". If the lives of the unborn are worthless and unprotected it is not a huge step to extend that kind of the thinking to the old and palliative. It seems it's all about convenience. We are used to unwanted babies. Now we have unwanted sick people, so unwanted that they are undesired even by themselves!
I do not wish to minimize or dismiss the suffering Dr. Low and others suffering like him went and are going through. As a physician I well know how much pain, nausea, confusion, sweating, shortness of breath and other disturbing symptoms the dying patient can go through. I have seen people degenerate into unmanageable Alzheimer's states causing a horrible burden on themselves and their caregivers. I have watched people linger away from chronic heart failure and lung disease. People too often outlive their minds or bodies. These are fates I would only wish on my worst enemy and I certainly want not even a taste of them in my life, chas v'shalom.
Finally one must keep in mind that a position endorsing assisted suicide is a sure sign of a godless secular society where life is no more valuable that those shoes you bought last week. Great to have around while comfy, easy to throw away when worn out.
And don't think that I'm exaggerating. Only a few years ago The National Post carried the story of an elderly woman who was lobbying for assisted suicide for herself. She was in perfect health but was recently widowed and in her grieving state couldn't stand the idea of going on without her husband. It seemed perfectly reasonable for her to demand the right to commit suicide rather than go on alone. For those who think that assisted suicide would be restricted to the very ill or elderly I would ask: how would you justify to this woman that she doesn't qualify? How about someone who has just been diagnosed with an incurable illness? If he says that he'd rather end things now way before he begins to feel any serious decline, will he be told he first has to suffer a little before being allowed to kill himself legally?
And that's why I have to state my opposition to Dr. Low. For one thing, there is the bias he presents by being a member of the group he supports. Yes, I cannot truly appreciate the suffering he endured but his enduring that suffering is exactly why he should not have been opining about the role of assisted suicide in Canada. The decision should not be up to people who have already made the decision because fate has dealt them a lousy hand and they see killing themselves as the only acceptable option. What's more, the decision should be in the hands of people who see some value in life. Not lip service "Well of course life is important" folks but those, religious or secular, who truly see life as something more than just another commodity we're stuck with, who see being alive as bigger than them.
I'm sorry if Dr. Low thought that disagreeing with him means I'm immature. I'd rather be immature and value life than be mature and live a meaningless existence with the thought of ending it the minute I couldn't have my self-perceived entitlement of a suffering-free life anymore.