Hastening Death vs. Letting Death Come

When it's acceptable to use a "living will" to end treatment of terminally ill patients

Print this page Print this page

Signed ____________________________________




*If I have not designated a proxy as provided above, I understand that my Living Will Declaration shall nevertheless be given effect should the appropriate circumstances arise.

The various statutes specifically exclude chronic debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimers, which are not life threatening and attempt to deal with other problems as well.

Suicide & Euthanasia

This approach raises many questions about traditional and modern Jewish perceptions of life and death. Is this akin to suicide or euthanasia? Suicide has always been considered a major sin (A Z 18a; Semahot 2.2; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 345.2) and even its contemplation was considered wrong. We have also felt that euthanasia is not consistent with our tradition (W. Jacob, ed., American Reform Responsa #78, 79). We may see from the arguments presented in these two responsa that nothing positive may be done to encourage death; however, the "Living Will" is not euthanasia, but an instrument of antidysthanonic.

Our tradition has felt that a goses (dying person) should also not be kept from dying after all hope for recovery has passed, and so the Sefer Hasidim stated that if the steady rhythm of someone chopping wood kept a goses alive, the wood chopping should be stopped (#723; Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 339.1).

Some rabbinic statements limit the definition of goses to persons who will not live for more than three days; however modern medical technology has made these limitations obsolete. Earlier biblical statements clearly indicated that no positive acts to abbreviate life even when there was not hope were permitted (I Sam 31.1 ff; II Sam 1.5 ff). In a later age Solomon Eger indicated that medicine should also not be used to hinder a soul's departure (comment to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 339.1).

We may then safely say that at the critical juncture of life when no hope for recovery exists the soul should be allowed to drift away peacefully. We have become even more sensitive to issues of euthanasia through our own experiences with the Holocaust.

Love of life in all its forms is very much part of our tradition. Even when conditions of life are rather doubtful and when there might be serious questions about the "quality of life" we cannot encourage euthanasia nor can we make assumptions about "the quality of life."

Defining Death

The modern development of medicine has brought wonderful cures and provides additional years of life even to those in advanced years. On the other hand, its technology may leave us in a permanent coma or a persistent vegetative state in which we are neither alive nor dead. Such individuals may be completely dependent upon life support machinery. While this is acceptable during periods of recovery, we fear a permanent coma when the mind has ceased to respond and a plateau of mere physical existence has been reached.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.