MKs to submit assisted-suicide bill

MKs to submit bill to pe

November 2, 2009 01:10
4 minute read.
avraham steinberg 248 88

avraham steinberg 248 88. (photo credit: Judy Siegel)

After four years of Health Ministry "dawdling" in implementing the law allowing passive euthanasia of terminal patients who meet strict criteria, Meretz MK Haim Oron has prepared a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide. The bill is a modified form of a law in the US state of Oregon that has allowed dozens of such patients to end their own lives. A five-hour discussion of the current situation and the proposed private member's bill was held on Sunday night at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center of the Jerusalem Ethics Center in coordination with Lilach, the Society for the Right to Live and Die with Dignity. It was the first Israeli conference to discuss active euthanasia by the terminal patient. Although the seven speakers did not say so on the stage, behind the scenes many blamed the ministry, which had been charged with implementing the law that passed four years ago and was supposed to go into effect in 2006. The law regarding terminally ill patients resulted from two years of discussions by the 59-member Steinberg Committee that found a consensus between the view that people have the full right to autonomy over their lives and the view that life at all costs has a supreme value of its own. Although an operating model for a timer that could be used at the suffering, terminal patient's request to stop a respirator was produced, not a single one was supplied by the ministry to any hospital, nor were passive-euthanasia committees set up in any of the hospitals. So since the law passed, no one has been allowed to die according to the strict stipulations set down by the legislation. Oron and other MKs are initiating a bill that would be similar to the 11-year-old law in Oregon and copied by the state of Washington, which allows a terminally ill person who don't want to continue suffering to be given a pill that could end his life quickly and painlessly - but the patient takes the pill himself. The bill would not go so far as the "therapeutic killing" laws in the Netherlands and Switzerland that enable doctors to actively put an end to patients' lives. The Oron bill was strongly supported at the conference - which filled all the seats in the auditorium and scores of additional seats outside facing a closed-circuit TV screen - by Prof. Avinoam Reches, head of the Israel Medical Association's ethics bureau. The senior Hadassah University Medical Center neurologist years ago received official permission to speed along the death of a former pilot who was completely paralyzed except in his eyelids by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The more-extreme Dutch and Swiss models allow people with terminal illnesses to consult with a doctor, even by phone, and choose how they want to die. In Oregon, the patient must be an adult, a resident of the state, insist over and over that he wants to die and be told of the alternatives of palliative medicine care. After stating his determination to die several times, he is given a pill that could end his life. Reches said that the UK, Canada, South Korea, Northern Ireland, Poland and other countries are preparing to pass laws based on the Oregon model as well. Former Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Matza, who is active in Lilach, strongly favored the Oron bill and recalled the tragic case of a woman whose terminally ill and suffering husband threatened to jump off the balcony at home if she didn't buy him rat poison. She did, and he suffered the whole night until he finally died. The woman was jailed for helping him and died before living out her sentence. Matza said he didn't think most physicians were aware of - or even interested in - the existing law regarding the terminally ill. They have to be educated, he said. If they felt unable to help a suffering patient end his own life, then perhaps a court should be empowered to give permission to doctors to do so, he added. Prof. Avraham Steinberg, an Orthodox rabbi, medical ethicist, Israel Prize laureate and pediatric neurologist at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, regretted that the law resulting from his years of work had gotten nowhere. It is not a perfect law, he admitted, but it was approved by professionals with a wide variety of views and did not contravene Jewish law, he said. He opposed a law that would legalize active euthanasia and said the reduced value for human life in Israel has triggered growing violence. "Maybe some amendments to the law can be made, but it should run for at least five years to see what has to be changed. It hasn't been implemented at all, to our regret," said Steinberg. Dr. Yoram Singer, a senior palliative medicine expert in the Negev, said that if humane professional care to reduce loneliness, pain, fear and helplessness were provided to every terminally ill patient, new laws might become unnecessary.

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