Thursday, December 08, 2005

Euthanasia, Jewish Style

In Israel, a new euthanasia law was passed by the Knesset, allowing patients with terminal conditions to have their life support cut off. However, in order to make the law congruent with Jewish law, this procedure is governed by machines, the equivalent of Sabbath timers so that a human being is not involved directly in the process, which would allot that person some responsibility in the ending of life.
A special timer will be fitted to a patient's respirator which will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off.

Normally, carers would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.

Similar timing devices, known as Sabbath clocks, are used in the homes of orthodox Jews so that light switches and electrical devices can be turned on during the Sabbath without offending religious strictures.

Parliamentarians reached a solution after discussions with a 58-member panel of medical, religious and philosophical experts.

"The point was that it is wrong, under Jewish law, for a person's life to be taken by a person but, for a machine, it is acceptable," a parliamentary spokesman said.

"A man would not be able to shorten human life but a machine can."
I like the idea that the law was developed ethically in consultation with religious authorities.

But, turning off a respirator is one thing. I certainly hope Israeli law does not develop in such a way that, in contested situations like Terri Shiavo, a mechanical means for depriving people of fluids until they die is not developed.

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