End of Life Care — Assisted Suicide ?

I pulled an interesting article from a newspaper I rarely read–New Jersey Jewish News.  The piece http://www.njjewishnews.com/article/15575/rabbis-frown-on-assisted-suicide-legislation discusses the ethics of assisted suicide.

Regarding the Jewish perspective on end of life, it cites a story from the second-century about a much revered rabbi Judah HaNasi who was suffering at the end.  His students prayed for his survival.  A servant girl through down a jug from a rooftop.  Startled, the students stopped praying–long enough for the Rabbi to pass away.  So the message here is powerful.  Praying for continued life, like entending a dying person’s life through extraordinary medical technology is not necessarily the moral/ethical/religious thing to do.  Doing so because WE don’t want our loved-ones to die is being selfish. Placing the best interest of those we love above our own sometimes requires that death be welcomed.

While affirming the sanctity of life, the perpetuation of suffering without hope of improvement is wrong.  The issues that confront us in 2013 differ greatly from the second century—and even from just 50 years ago.  Then there was no technology to continue life, no additional procedures, tests, drugs we could order to try to overcome the process of dying.  Now we can. But is assisted-suicide just too much of an intrusion on the process of dying itself?

Is euthanasia equivalent to murder?  These issues are not limited to debate among Jews.  All human beings will be faced with them.  Dr. Kevorkian pushed the envelope on this matter and brought much public attention to it.  Several states have passed laws legalizing it.

I believe ultimately this should be a private matter.  But like issues of same sex marriage, when private concerns cross over into public policy with medical, drug related, legalities etc., they become issues for us all.

My own perspective is to expand the role of Hospice at end of life.  Hospice allows for “passive” rather than “active” euthanasia.   We don’t necessarily have to hook up an iv to potassium or a lethal dose of anesthesia but make sure our loved-ones do not suffer.  We can refuse medical therapy for our loved-ones when it will only bring more discomfort.  We can honor their wishes at the end of life, rather than contradicting them because we can’t make that call.

We can keep them at home, allow them not to be fed if they choose not to eat, don’t force iv fluids on them, keep them “snowed” with narcotics even if it reduces their respirations.  If such acts of loving-kindness hastens their physical demise–so be it.  This is not about life-saving, it is about facilitating the dying process.

I prefer the concept of assisted dying, not assisted suicide.

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