Op-Ed: Euthanasia - in Israel?
I was horrified to see on the Arutz 7 website, on June 8, 2014, that a euthanasia bill proposed by Ofer Shelach of Yesh Atid passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation with unanimous approval, except for the Bayit Yehudi religious ministers. At present, the bill addresses terminally ill patients, a problematic issue in itself, but it is also the start of a slippery slope. I fear that these committee members do not know what they are doing. Unfortunately, I do.
On November 17,1997, my late wife Marsi Tabak z"l suffered a massive heart attack with severe neurological injury due to lack of oxygen to the brain during resuscitation. There followed a long period of very gradual recovery of function, most of which was not perceived by medical staff, due to the slow process underway, but by the family who never left her side.
When she first opened her eyes after several weeks in a coma, we were excited and optimistic. However the doctors then pronounced the verdict of "PVS – persistent vegetative state" wherein the lack of response to certain standard neurological evaluations lead to this diagnosis. Any indications of her mental functioning that we observed were waved away as "involuntary reflexes" and not sentient responses. To the contrary, we knew for our own very good reasons that within the envelope of total paralysis she was sentient, thinking and largely unable to express herself at that point.
A patient in this state is unable to communicate. Marsi z"l only recovered the ability to blink her eyes voluntarily after 2-3 months, after which she was able to communicate with family and staff, albeit laboriously. One blink was "yes", two rapid blinks "no". She then began to read, eye motions following the lines on the page, signaling with a blink when she had finished and needed page turning. She expressed emotion when appropriate, but was still totally paralyzed. Eventually she was able to spell out words using a technique called alphabet scanning.
She was a very active and determined personality when in good health, and we have no doubt that had she, in good health, prepared a "living will" as these documents are described in the USA, she would have mandated not wishing to continue to live under the circumstances which she now experienced.
However, now that she was actually in this state, everything that took place testified to her wishing to live, and struggle, and try to recover. Her efforts were witnessed and attested to by caregivers and therapists, not only family, over nearly 12 years.
Had a "living will" existed, she would not have had a chance to try, as she was unable to communicate in any conventional way at the beginning, and would have been terminated by medical staff. We were surprised, and gratified by her responses and provided all the resources we could to support her wishes. Unfortunately, she passed away on Lag Ba'Omer in 2009 without having achieved recovery, but after having made good progress in a number of areas.
The members of the Ministerial Committee approved this legislation no doubt due to their imagining themselves in a "terminal" situation and feeling that they would want this option for themselves. They could not be more wrong. They cannot predict their feelings in advance.
If they ever were, G-d forbid, in this situation, at that point they would not be physically able to revoke their previous request and they would be done to death, in spite of their silent screams of "don't! don't!", by MK Ofer Shelach's unfortunate legislation.
There is no way to know whether a patient wishes to continue living if he cannot communicate his wishes to us. There is no justification for murdering a human being who now might want to rescind the letter he wrote when in good health, but cannot express himself.
Once one reason for allowing euthenasia is approved, it is a short slide to the next. This terrible law must not come up before the Knesset. And I know why.