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The question: A Jewish man who has signed a Living Will becomes very sick. He is suffering badly and is on life support. The doctors believe he has no chance of recovery. The man’s family believe it is time to carry out his Living Will and allow him to die, but want his rabbi to concur. Does Jewish law allow the rabbi to do this?
by Rabbi Ramon Widmonte | Aug 20, 2014
 

Answer

Living Wills are indeed at once challenging and offer certain opportunities. On the one hand, the entire living will industry poses tremendous questions in ethics and has definitely weakened people’s rock-hard conviction that life is paramount. For Jews, the value of human life is almost always supreme.

On the other hand, organisations such as the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS) and many rabbis at home and abroad, are there to help guide Jews who are earnestly seeking halachic guidance in such areas.

The Jewish Code of Law addresses such knotty questions and I think the key element that people need to know is that there is a Jewish response, a Torah response.

Over our long history, our sages and leaders have contemplated the consequences of all sides of this question and the morality of every option and the Torah view, nuanced and wondrous as always, is balanced and value-quenched.



 Rebbetzen Estee Stern replies:

 

I am so sorry to hear that this man is not well. Besides his own pain, this situation must be so difficult for his family. To “pull the plug” of the life support or not, is an extremely complex halachic question, and each case is unique.

There are cases where Jewish law will possibly allow for it, but this needs to be discussed with the family’s personal rabbi with whom they can share the exact details.

Before speaking to their rabbi, it is important that they understand the difficulty in such a circumstance. Sure, no-one wants this man to suffer. On the other hand, life and death are in G-d’s hands and ultimately He is the one that decides when man has fulfilled his mission in this world.

We wouldn’t want to end his life earlier than was planned by G-d. Jewish law clearly defines the moment of death, and this will assist the rabbi and doctor in making the correct decision.


Rabbi Ari Kievman replies:

 

My first wish to this man is for a refua sheleima - to get better. Judaism teaches that life is precious and must be cherished. Terminating a human life, even for seemingly merciful purposes, desecrates our inherent sanctity and purpose. 

That said, the Jewish approach to end-of-life care is guided by two considerations: (1) the desire to ameliorate pain and suffering, and (2) the belief in the value of life’s every moment. Withdrawing care that will directly lead to one's passing would be prohibited. Basic needs of nutrition, hydration and oxygen, are considered vital and generally are to be provided.

There are differing opinions within halacha about withholding care.  

Some authorities maintain that life must be prolonged at all costs. Others consider the patient's condition and if one is terminally ill and the medical care is excruciatingly painful, then they can object to treatments which would prolong life. However, food and oxygen must still be provided. 

A competent halachic expert must be consulted with regard to each case specificaly, to render an authoritative decision. So,if I were his rabbi, I would first seek guidance from a senior rabbi whose expertise is in understanding end-of-life matters. 

 

2 Comments

  1. 2 Dr H.D. Solomons 27 Aug
    If a person / individual's quality of life is so poor then it is better to let him go .
    Obviously the health profession believes that a life should be saved at all costs, but if the quality of life is so poor that only machinery , dialysis and artificial respiration will sustain him , I am sure that his own family would prefer to see him succumb.
    The answer is that the individual should suffer as little as humanly possible.
    Pain must be averted at all costs .
    this is why places like hospice is of such benefit .
    Perhaps religion doesn't come into the equation.
    A person should ultimately have the right to decide on his own destiny.
    Keep Torah studies and Halacha out of it.
    Darwinism believes in natural selection.
    I hope I will not be branded a heretic !
  2. 1 Trevor Balkin 05 Sep
    Can an authodox rabbi attend a fully kosher wedding reception after the wedding was ceremony chuppa was conducted by a reform rabbi and the reform rabbi will not be attending or take any part of the kosher wedding reception your reply will be very much appreciated Many thanks Trevor Balkin

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