End of Life Issues: A Jewish Perspective

An introduction to Jewish attitudes toward life support, ceasing medical care, living wills, and caring for patients in their final days

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Traditionally observant visitors that arrive on Friday may need to be accommodated if they do not manage to leave before the sun sets; they will not be able to travel once the Sabbath begins. You may need to provide a pillow and blanket so that they can sleep in a chair.

Other arrangements may need to be discussed with the patient or their family. A rabbi may need to visit the patients to hear their confession (viddui) and pray with them, so try to provide a quiet area or some privacy for this.

Talking to the Family

Because of the requirement to neither hasten nor delay death, some groups of Jews may feel that discussing impending death with a patient is a sinful activity, likely to worry them prematurely into death. It may be worth talking to a patient and their family before a diagnosis is made, about whether to reveal the full extent of a condition. This is an ethical minefield, and it is suggested that as much advice as possible is sought from medical peers and rabbinical sources to help you in this matter.

A dying Jew might request the presence of a rabbi at any time to go through the ceremony of viddui and to pray with him or her. Make sure that such requests are respected, and that the patient and rabbi are given peace and quiet to talk and pray together.

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