February 22, 2006
Euthanasia in Israel - Knowing the FactsTopics: Euthanasia
For the past several weeks, information about Israel and euthanasia has been circulating based on reports about a new law allowing terminal patients to discontinue certain life support.
The main news source cited frequently is from the Telegraph. The content of the Telegraph "news" story is so misleading, it has resulted in undue criticism of Israel and its policy makers, as much as the legislation itself.
Not one to rely solely on the media, I sought out parties knowledgeable about euthanasia and also professionals with working knowledge of Jewish law, care of the terminally ill and, of course, those with first hand information as to how this law developed.
Included among those I contacted is Abraham Steinberg, M.D., a physician and Orthodox Rabbi who chaired the committee that convened to develop the subject law. Dr. Steinberg is a pediatric neurologist at the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem and is the author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics.
Dr. Steinberg took time out of his busy schedule to answer my direct questions and has permitted me to share his responses (the doctor's statements are in italics only):
Which patients are covered under the new law in Israel, and if for "terminal" patients how is this defined? "Only patients with incurable fatal disease with expected survival of less than 6 months."
Is the request or consent of patients required, and are patients protected if they did not ask to be removed from life support? "Only when the wishes of the patient are known either by his explicit competent request, or by advance directives, or by a surrogate or by a close person. Otherwise it is forbidden to do anything that shortens life. The basic assumption of the law is that every person wants to continue to live unless proven otherwise."
What machines may be terminated? "It is only permitted to withhold treatment that is directly related to the dying process and illness. Cyclic treatment can be withheld but not continuous treatment. Food and fluid has to be provided by all means."
My final question to the doctor was about the timer or clock to be attached to respirators. Before I go on, let us get the following out of the way:
There will be no "machines to perform euthanasia" in Israel. There will be no special dials "set to kill patients" at a certain time. Patients will not be "committing suicide by machine."
Posted by tim at February 22, 2006 12:31 PM
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