Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Anonymous Doctors Murder a Terminal Patient With Court Approval
by N. Katzin and E. Rauchberger

Anonymous neurologists in Meir Hospital detached a terminal patient from a respirator a week after the president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Uri Goren, issued an order permitting the patient's removal from her life support machines.

Rabbonim and communal leaders expressed their abhorrence and shock at the grave deterioration around euthanasia. This is the first time in Israel that an act of euthanasia was actively carried out officially and legally despite a fierce public dispute still raging around the legality of passive euthanasia.

The patient, a 57 year old woman from Hod Hasharon hospitalized in the neurological ward in Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, suffered from terminal muscular dystrophy which had completely paralyzed her. She was able to communicate only through blinking her eyes. Adv. Yitzhak Choshen appealed to the District Court in her name requesting that she be permitted to terminate her life. Judge Goren, who is known as a supporter of euthanasia from earlier decisions, approved the request after the neurological ward reported that, while two senior doctors in the team refuse to carry out the euthanasia, two other doctors agreed to detach the patient from the machine. Judge Goren issued a further injunction at the request of Kupat Cholim Klalit forbidding the publication of the names of the doctors who carried out the euthanasia lest their reputations as professional medical personnel suffer.

A senior neurologist, one of the doctors who participated in detaching the patient from the respirator, told the press: "It was the right thing to do. We need to legalize this so we don't have to sit clandestinely in our rooms when making decisions of this kind. These decisions should be transparent instead of furtive." Euthanasia was administered to the patient in the hospital instead of at her home, so as "not to cause suffering to the family."

On Thursday afternoon two weeks ago, the doctors injected the patient with an anesthetic drug and afterwards detached her from the respirator. Her death was confirmed a short time later. It should be noted that the Attorney General, who resolutely opposed detaching a patient from the respirator and saw it as a red line which may not be crossed, changed his position during the trial after Judge Goren determined in his verdict that "detaching the patient from the respirator does not constitute an active act on the part of the doctor executing it."

A senior doctor in Meir Hospital told Yated Ne'eman that in his opinion, the vast majority of doctors would not agree to carry out such an action which he defined as irrefutable murder. The doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "I and my friends in the staff are not observant people, but we are horrified and protest that such a deed was carried out in the hospital. A doctor is trained to assist a patient, not to liquidate him in the name of mercy."

A senior geriatric expert in the Ministry of Health who served as the director of the geriatric unit in Ichilov and Assaf Harofe hospitals told Yated Ne'eman unambiguously, "It's forbidden to do any action, active or passive, if it shortens the life of the patient. Detaching the patient from a respirator if it will cause his death is not acceptable to us and I view it most gravely. Shortening life is murder, whether it is active or passive." He added, "Nevertheless, in my opinion, the matter is presented in a distorted manner in the press. They only present the other side, and so that is the view that is legitimized. The repercussions on the public are not mentioned, the view of Halacha is not heard, and the public -- including doctors -- is unaware of the various aspects."

Experts in ethics and halacha warn that the horror of the slippery slope which they have warned against all along is being realized in Israel. Dr. Menachem Breyer, the deputy director of Maayanei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak who is an activist in the struggle against euthanasia, responded in revulsion, "This is an extremely grave deterioration. They present an active case of euthanasia as if it were a passive action. All the halachic poskim fiercely oppose this and it's a shame that doctors are involved with it. Every time they invade a different area. Today they detach you from a respirator. The next step will be giving a poisonous injection -- G-d forbid -- to shorten a patient's life. We check every patient who comes to us, we consult together with the rabbis in the hospital to see what's permitted and what's forbidden. But there, with a wave of the hand, a patient is detached from a respirator and murdered."

Dr. Breyer added, "Many citizens who are not observant nevertheless emphatically oppose euthanasia. The same leftist clique that shows contempt for human life is involved in all these court decisions. They push their agenda in small, gradual dosages so that the public won't rise up in mutiny against them. This is a slippery slope if ever there was!"

UTJ MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz responded sharply against the judge's decision and said to our reporter that this decision runs against the law. In his opinion, the judge should go to prison for permitting the murder. Rabbi Ravitz mentioned the proposal of Meretz MK Anat Maor on the subject of euthanasia, which is awaiting its second and third readings.

The proposed law doesn't even deal with active human intervention to end a life, but with passive intervention only, and only in certain circumstances. This bill is being held back at the request of the Health Ministry, after Rabbi Ravitz had asked Health Minister Nissim Dehan for the delay. The reason for the delay is to check if its clauses are compatible with halacha, and to ensure that irresponsible judges will not be able to give a wide interpretation to the law and apply it also to cases which lack justification. There is concern that the courts will apply the law to allow active intervention to terminate life, as happened in this very case.

Rabbi Ravitz accused the judge of reaching a decision which contravenes Israeli law and assisting a murder, for which he should be tried in court. "It's untenable to permit a man to determine how long he'll live and to determine whether to push off his execution for a few days or not because of a family celebration. This is not Holland or Norway," said Rabbi Ravitz. He added that such judges are the cause of opposition to every law on the subject of euthanasia even laws of limited scope which don't negate halacha, because of the danger that the judges will widen the law to include cases and actions which are not even sanctioned in the law.

UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni told our reporter that bluntly, murder was carried out. The judge decided against the law which forbids murder. Until this decision, it was plain to everyone that murder is murder, no matter how it is done, but now utilitarian motives are being entered into whether an act of terminating life is murder or not. Today the problem is the suffering of the patient or his family, and tomorrow it will be an economic or social motive. In fact, every person can demand that his life be ended for utilitarian motives. The judge's decision has broken the dam and may bring on a flood of reckless murders which had been forbidden until now. Suicides were prevented in the past by law but now there will be no reason to stop a suicide in process.

Rabbi Gafni emphasized that Judaism deems the sanctity of life a supreme value, and we violate Shabbos and Yom Kippur even for a doubt involving pikuach nefesh. Saving a life is the highest value -- but now it has been trampled by an Israeli judge. Until today, no person imagined that actions to terminate life would be permitted. All doctors swear to save life and not to terminate it.

Rabbi Gafni is concerned that after this decision was issued and the murder carried out with the permission of the law, many other cases will follow in which the principle motive will be the family or the patient's convenience. He shudders to think that motive will determine whether to terminate a human life or not.


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