Halacha and euthanasia

By MATTHEW WAGNER
December 6, 2005 19:32
2 minute read.

Jewish law prohibits active euthanasia. However, there is a wide range of opinions on what constitutes active, as opposed to passive, euthanasia. Professor Avraham Steinberg, author of the Encyclopedia Hilchatit Refu'it and instrumental in the drafting of Shaul Yahalom's euthanasia bill, discusses the opinions in his book. All rabbis agree that even passive euthanasia is permissible only after it has been determined that the patient is terminally ill and further treatment is not only futile but also adds suffering. Jewish law does not take into consideration the age, mental lucidity, or socioeconomic status of the patient. Nor does Jewish law allow euthanasia in order to shorten suffering. Suffering, according certain opinions in Jewish theology, is determined by God and, therefore, must be allowed to take its course. Steinberg presents three basic approaches to treatment of terminally patients in pain. The first, most stringent, approach makes no distinctions between different types of patients. Every effort must be made to lengthen life. The second approach posits that if the patient asks for relief from suffering, it is permitted to refrain from administering treatment. The third approach, which Steinberg seems to accept, prohibits the active lengthening of life in cases of great pain. In the footnotes to his encyclopedia, Steinberg recounts the death of his own father. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Orbach, considered one of the greatest halachic authorities of the modern era, directed him to discontinue nor-epinephrine, a drug that stabilizes blood pressure, after Steinberg's father's respiratory system and kidneys failed. However, Steinberg adds that all the natural needs of the patient, such as food and oxygen, must be provided. Treatment such as antibiotics, that prevents complications common to non-terminally patients must also be continued. Although he quotes a long list of rabbis who permit disconnecting a terminally patient from life support systems, he states that the majority prohibit it. However, even these more stringent rabbis allow the disconnecting in certain situations. For instance, if it was necessary to stop life support to conduct treatment, it is permitted to refrain from restarting the system. Others allow the system to be incrementally phased out.



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