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The Health Ministry has begun to accept living wills from people who want to stipulate how they want their life to end if they become terminally ill.
A ministry center in Jerusalem already has a few dozen of the documents in a vault and stored in a computer, to be used to inform hospitals of the patients' wishes, if needed, according to Dr. Mordechai Halperin, the Health Ministry's adviser on medical ethics, who is in charge of the center.
Halperin was speaking Tuesday at a seminar on the Terminal Patient Law, organized by the UJA Federation of New York and by Tishkofet, an NGO that offers emotional support for terminally ill patients and their families, and held at the Mishkenot Shaananim Guest House in Jerusalem. The law went into effect at the beginning of 2007.
The forms can be downloaded (so far only in Hebrew, but soon in English and other languages) from the ministry Web site at www.health.gov.il (under the listing for Mercaz Le'hanhayot Refuiyot Makdimot) or ordered at (02) 670-6825. An e-mail request can also be sent to email@example.com.
To be included in the databank, one must send the form by registered mail with a copy of one's identity card. There is no charge for the service.
Implementation of the law, which was passed in December 2005, was delayed for a year due to bureaucratic processes. It was aimed at allowing the terminally ill who wish to die to do so without being forced to be kept alive by artificial means. Seven years in the making, the law is regarded as one of the most complicated and important ever passed by the Knesset.
If requested in a living will, renewable every five years, or by a person chosen to decide on his behalf, a terminally ill patient who is over the age of 17 may ask that his life not be extended by artificial means.
One model of a portable delayed-response timer that can be attached to a patient's respirator has already been built, Halperin told The Jerusalem Post, and the actual device should be available in hospitals around the country by the end of the year.
The delayed-response timer will be the main solution to the problem of how to let those who are suffering while on a respirator and have fewer than six months to live to have control over how they die. The device will soon be tested in two hospitals.
Regulations prepared by the ministry include details on registration of living wills and giving a power of attorney to another person to decide for the patient if he is unable to himself. In addition, a national database for this information has been set up, along with criteria for doctors to use to determine whether a patient wants his life to be extended artificially.
The withholding of nutrition and active euthanasia will not be permitted because they violate Halacha, but the legislation allows for support to be halted using the timer device. Families will no longer have to turn to the courts for permission to halt artificial measures that keep terminal patients alive against their will.
A report on the conference will appear on the Health Page on Sunday July 1.