09/10/2012 04:03 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Nagui Morcos, Huntington's Victim, Chose Day He Would Die

A Toronto college professor who set the date of his own death to head off the debilitating effects of his incurable genetic disease urged his country in a suicide note "to do the humane thing and embrace choice for the terminally ill to have medical assistance to end their life when it has become unbearable."

As the Toronto Star reported this week, Nagui Morcos chose April 22, 2012 as his last day on Earth. He was 54.

The Canadian university professor scheduled his suicide rather than watch his body be ravaged with Huntington’s Disease, an inherited, degenerative nerve disease that has no cure. He had seen the effects before as he watched his father Fouad languish and die from the disease in 1988 and decided he would go out on his own terms.

Morcos learned 18 years ago that he carried the gene for Huntington's, a terminal disease whose most famous victim may be folk singer Woody Guthrie. The bad news was part of a genetic screening he and his wife Jan Crowley underwent to determine whether they would have a family. The diagnosis ruled out children, who might inherit the Huntington defect -- even though Morcos ' two brothers got a clean bill of health.

About eight years ago, the inevitable symptoms began to appear, marking the beginning of what is always with Huntington's an inevitable end. The professor soon began to document his symptoms: insomnia, exhaustion, urinary problems, faltering speech, poor circulation, clumsiness and other gradually worsening symptoms.

After two years of planning, Morcos decided in January that he would die in the spring. As he wrote in a suicide note to family and friends, he took his life "of my own free will and no one put any pressure on me," adding that, "I have had a lot of time to think this through."

Morcos explained that, "In deciding on the timing for hastening my death, and to stay within the current laws, I had to do this myself and couldn’t get any help. It was a precarious balance between doing it too early and missing out on my rich life, and doing it too late when I was no longer capable."

Correction: An earlier version of this article included a typo in the first paragraph. "County" was corrected to "country."