In reference to “A Jewish View on Physician-Assisted Suicide” (Opinion, Oct. 23), I am sharing here another Jewish view on medical aid in dying. Like our U.S. Constitution, the Torah is a living document, meant to be reread and reinterpreted to guide us in addressing both old and new challenges.
I am a Jewish family physician and educator and have spent much of my more than 30-year career helping families and individuals through end-of-life. My ethical perspective on the issue is rooted in both Jewish and secular law, as well as medical ethics teachings. Core to each of these is the sanctity of life.
Jewish law upholds the sanctity of life above all else.
Medical ethics teaching upholds patient autonomy above all else. Secular law varies from state to state. As a practitioner in New York State, it is currently illegal for me to provide medical aid in dying. That being said, there is a place where length of life and quality of life come face to face, a place where physicians and nurses, patients, families, communities, spiritualities cannot alleviate suffering. It is in this space that the sanctity of life and patient’s autonomy must be reconciled by an understanding of life as not only biologic but encompassing a person’s essence.
When a person’s essence is terminally changed by suffering that cannot be alleviated by any means, I believe it is ethical within Jewish law to uphold a person’s autonomy and their right to die. It is from this deeply considered perspective, based on the above referenced ethical structure, as well as decades of bearing witness to patients’ and families’ suffering and decision-making processes that I hope New York joins the ranks of states with a Right To Die law.
Center for Family and Community Medicine Columbia University