Defining Death Down

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6 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Jewish organizations that have looked favorably on health care legislation now need to reassess their positions. They need to resist vigorously any changes to our system that will make health care rationing more likely. The bleakest side of rationing is health care refusal to the elderly by authorities whose decisions cannot be challenged by the victims-to-be or their next of kin.

    Such organizations often publicly tout their ability to get their constituents goodies from the government (which, by the way, are paid for by taxpaying citizens as a group, not by the tooth fairy). We have to be able to look some gift horses in the mouth in order to resist dangerous levels of control.

  2. K R Heckert says:

    It is important to distinguish – as you do not do in this article – between those who are brain-damaged but will live on indefinitely, with or without help, and those who have received a terminal diagnosis and in which death is unquestionably imminent. A person who is dying of cancer and has at most a few months to live, and is in unbearable pain, should be given whatever medication is necessary to give them relief. This is certainly permitted by halacha. My own mother, who had bone cancer, was given a diagnosis of less than three months to live. Bone cancer is horribly painful, and she was not being medicated enough to prevent her literally crying out in pain whenever she was moved. I asked a sheilah from a Rav recommended by the Agudah, who poskened that in such a case the question of shortening life does not arise so long as the painkiller is given specifically to to reduce pain and not to shorten life.

    Of course, in any such case a specific sheilah should be asked, but people should not assume that it is forbidden. A sheilah should be asked, and the answer carried out. The case of someone who is “in a vegetative state” after an accident, heart attack or drug overdose is an entirely different matter, and should not be confused with the situation in a terminal illness where it is obvious that only a minor miracle could save the patient.

  3. Miriam says:

    We don’t admit it, but health care is inevitably rationed. Each time any high-cost medical situation receives funding, that puts a huge burden on the rest of the system. People think of medical possibilities as being infinite, yet facilities, staff, and funding are ultimately finite.

    Should all 30-year-olds be taxed at 50% for the rest of their lives, in order to funnel those monies for high-cost health care of others? Should doctors and hospitals be forced to cut their fees and increase their output?

    Even the choice of sustaining a vegetative state versus performing an organ transplant is a choice in allocating these fixed resources – both are expensive, and in some cases there is a choice of one life versus another.

    Yes in general Orthodox Jews ask sheilot for specific cases, but in the meantime we are all leaving the big picture to be decided by government, big business, or secular medical ethics boards.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Miriam asked,
    “Should all 30-year-olds be taxed at 50% for the rest of their lives, in order to funnel those monies for high-cost health care of others? Should doctors and hospitals be forced to cut their fees and increase their output?’

    Where is it written that the medical system should be tax-supported to this extent in the first place? Individuals using savings plans, communities and industries acting together, etc., could probably do better than government without the huge level of waste we now have.

  5. Dr. Zacharowicz says:

    Rabbi Shafran should be commended for raising serious questions about the slippery slope of current secular ‘ethics,’ which permits doctors to shorten the lives of some patients to benefit others in expensive transplants (which also benefit the hospital). For a doctor to remove vital organs of a patient who is not brain dead, after the patient’s heart has stopped beat for a bit more than one minute, is hard to understand from anything but a utlitarian perspective (sacrifice the few to benefit the many), which is anathema–or should be–to so many of us.

    Kudos to Rabbi Shafran, a lone voice in the community, for raising the alarm, yet again, about the Brave New World of end-of-life care.

  6. Miriam says:

    Individuals … could probably do better than government without the huge level of waste we now have.

    Amen to that. But the problem is that usually public discussion of these issues results in public laws, which means government intervention and the subsequent waste.

    In fact we might even be better off without the big insurance companies, too. But systems are very difficult to change much less eliminate.

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