Jun 1, 1993
RESOLUTION: EUTHANASIA/ASSISTED SUICIDE
"Assisted suicide" has entered our language and has achieved a measure of respectability by being placed before the voting citizenry of two states in a referendum to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Judaism, which has served as the ethical basis for Western civilization, views assisted suicide as murder.
"Death with dignity" the rallying cry of those who favor legalizing assisted suicide, is but a slogan designed to confuse. "Death with dignity" has but one meaning -death after a life lived with dignity. Neither ventilators, nor pressor drugs, nor I. V. feedings, affect the dignity of man created in G-d's image.
Judaism espouses the principle of the infinite value of human life. All biblical and rabbinic commandments (except murder, idolatry and adultery) must be waived to save a human life. Physicians are divinely licensed and obligated to heal, and patients are mandated to seek healing from physicians. Any deliberate hastening of death of even a terminally ill patient is prohibited as murder. Active euthanasia is not permitted in Judaism.
Judaism also recognizes that a physician is obligated to heal only when he has some medical treatment to offer the patient. If the patient is dying from an incurable illness after all therapy has failed, the physician's role changes from curing to caring. Only supportive care such as food and water, good nursing care and maximum psycho-social support should be provided.
If a patient near death is in severe pain and no therapeutic protocol holds any hope for recovery, it may be proper to withhold additional pharmacological or technological interventions so as to permit the natural ebbing of the life forces. The physician's role at that point is limited to providing pain relief. Judaism is concerned with the quality of life, the mitigation of pain, and the cure of illness wherever possible. If no cure or remission can be achieved, nature should be allowed to take its course. To prolong life is a mitzvah, to prolong dying is not. Sensitive interaction between the patient or his proxy, the physician, and Rabbi will result in a plan of treatment that reflects the best of modern medicine in full accord with the ethical teaching of Judaism.