I was deeply saddened by the news of Dr. Donald Low’s passing away on Sept. 18, at age 68 due to terminal brain cancer diagnosed seven months ago. In this difficult time, I send my heart-felt condolences to his wife Maureen Taylor and children.
Dr. Low was a microbiologist in-chief at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto. After the 2003 SARS breakout in Toronto killed 44 people in Canada and nearly 800 worldwide, Low became a famous figure. He also advanced the practice of microbiology and infectious diseases across Canada. He was a global expert in flesh-eating disease (necrotizing faciitis) caused by Group A Streptococcus. In the mid-1990s Low discovered for the first time that the bacteria Streptococcus iniae, a fish pathogen, could also infect humans who had handled farmed tilapia.
Low appeared on TV holding a tilapia fish and innocently said, “this is the fish that causes mad fish disease.” Sadly, this inaccurate statement terribly affected the Toronto fish market as consumers abstained from buying tilapia fish for several weeks. Consequently, Dr. Doug Mcrogan from the University of Guelph and myself, an aquaculture consultant, published two articles in the Toronto Star: “Fish disease unlike mad cow disease” and “Fish infection not restricted to tilapia.” In other words, S. iniae is not restricted to tilapia, as it had been found in 22 fish species. The so-called “mad fish disease” is unlike “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), which is caused by an infectious protein particle, and not a bacterium.
I met Donald Low after his talk at the University of Guelph and enlightened him about tilapia aquaculture. He respected my points of view. In fact, he was an amazing and friendly scientist.
During the SARS crisis Low was the voice of calm, but not at his time of death. I was very sorry to watch the video produced by Canadian Partnership against Cancer in which the ailing Low madea plea for Canada to change the law to allow doctor-assisted suicide, so-called mercy killing. Further, I was very sad when Mrs. Low, Maureen Taylor, told CBC News: “I could hear his breathing as normal, was very laboured, and all of a sudden, I could not hear it. And I turned back to him and he had one last breath and I held him and he did not breathe again anymore. But I can tell you that was not a dignified death that he died.”
I was a bit relieved when a statement in the video said: “Low did not have the death he had hoped for, but he died in his wife’s arms and was not in pain.”
It was a great blessing that Low died in the arms of his wife and was not in pain. However, I never expected Donald Low and his wife to ask Canada to change the present law and approve euthanasia or doctor-assisted dying under the guise of dignity. All religious believe assisted-killing is wrong.
But if Low and his wife just asked themselves: what say do we have when we are born “normal” or with Down Syndrome? Dignity.
I was very pleased to read the government reaction when a spokesman for the Justice Minister said the government has “no intention” of reopening debate on the laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide.
I pray to God to rest the soul of Dr. Donald Low in peace and reward him as much as he had served Canada and Canadians with his medical contributions. To Maureen Taylor and children, I ask God to Bless and protect them from all evil.