When Maureen Taylor’s husband, Dr. Donald Low succumbed to brain cancer in 2013, she took up his cause – the fight for the right to die with dignity.
Dr. Donald Low was a well-known microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist. He rose to notoriety during the SARS crisis. At the time Maureen was a medical health reporter at the CBC. The crisis brought them together on a daily basis.
Their professional relationship soon turned to romance. Maureen describes it as “a whirlwind, like off my feet, blown away at how wonderful this man was…” The two were soon married.
They had much in common and spent many hours talking not only about family and health care, but politics. Each night they watched the Daily Show. Both Don and Maureen were established in their careers with grown children.
Then only 10 years after they met, came the diagnosis. In 2013, a tumor was found in a critical area of Dr. Low’s brain. Surgery wasn’t possible and death was certain. Over the next few months he and his family would witness his deterioration.
The tumor was located in the part of his brain that affected movement and speech. His quality of life greatly diminished.
In 2013 medical assistance in dying was illegal in Canada. They discussed going to Switzerland, where non-citizens could legally get an assisted death. However, they decided against it as they had little time left to organize the procedure and it would be too taxing on the family. Dr. Low’s wish was for a peaceful, painless death surrounded by loved ones.
“I don’t want people to think that I wanted him to go, I could have done that forever, looked after him forever and I was gonna grieve for him no matter what, whether he died of a heart attack instantly without any pain, or whether he got an assisted death or didn’t. I was going to grieve for him because I loved him.”
Dr. Donald Low passed away at his home on September 18, 2013.
The now viral video that he made a few days before his death was a wake up call for many, especially for those in his medical profession: “It made them stop and think,” says Maureen.
In summer 2015 Maureen was invited to co-chair the Ontario Provincial Advisory Panel on Physician-Assisted Dying. In this capacity, she canvassed various stakeholders – official associations, medical personnel and the general public – about where they stood on the issue before panel deliberations began.
Her advocacy work has become her way of honouring her husband.
You can follow Maureen’s advocacy via Twitter @MaureenTaylor31.
Read the Provincial Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying Final Report (November 30, 2015).
Maureen Taylor is a Physician Assistant in Infectious Diseases at Toronto East General Hospital and an Associate Clinical Professor in the Physician Assistant program at McMaster University. Prior to her Physician Assistant career, Maureen was a broadcast journalist for 25 years, including 7 years as the National Medical/Health Reporter for the CBC. Maureen is a 3-time winner of CMA/CNA award for excellence in health reporting and is currently on the editorial board of the health policy website Healthy Debate.