Some Modern Views on Euthanasia

Contemporary Jewish thinkers have expressed a wide range of opinions about the permissibility and parameters of euthanasia.

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-- Professor of Law Daniel B. Sinclair. Reprinted from Tradition and the Biological Revolution, published by Edinburgh University Press.

I sympathize enormously with patients going through an agonizing process of dying, and in cases of irreversible, terminal illness, I have taken a very liberal stance on withholding or withdrawing life-support systems, including artificial nutrition and hydration, to enable nature to take its course. I would also permit the use of any amount of medication necessary to relieve pain, even if that is the same amount that will hasten a person's death, as long as the intention is to alleviate pain.

The [Conservative movement's] Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has validated that stance, as well as that of Rabbi Avram Reisner, who permits withdrawing machines and medications from the patient but not withholding or withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration, and who permits using large doses of morphine to relieve pain up to, but not including, the amount that poses a risk to the patient's life.

-- Conservative rabbi Elliot N. Dorff. Reprinted from "Teshuvah on Assisted Suicide," Conservative Judaism (Summer 1998).

Alternative Approaches

Judaism values the pursuit of health and the preservation of life as very important mitzvot…However it is also clear in Judaism that biological life, while an important value, is not a supreme value which overrides all other considerations. Therefore, in extreme situations, the termination of human life is not considered a sin, but is in fact praiseworthy.  The determining factor is whether the termination of life is consistent with the preservation of the person as a being created b'tzelem elohim.

In other words, does the continuation of biological life violate the sacred character of the individual's life? Therefore, the aggadah, the sacred narrative of a person's life, becomes part of the halakhic [Jewish legal] decision‑making process. Ideally the person, family, physician, and rabbi will be involved in the initial decision. The decision would be reviewed by impartial medical and rabbinic experts. The decision-making seems cumbersome, but is necessary to avoid conflict of interest and rash decisions. This might be a permissible limitation on autonomy.

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