Knesset Passes "Terminally-Ill" Law

The Knesset passed the "Terminally Ill Law" Tuesday night by a 22-3 vote. The law requires doctors to honor a patient's desire not to receive life-extending treatment.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 16:41

The law, six years in preparation, was formulated largely by a public commission comprising rabbis and other top professionals in all relevant fields.

The law regulates, for the first time in Israel, the issue of terminally-ill and end-of-life patients. It only pertains to a person whom doctors give six months or less to live, and deals only with one who expressed his clear desire not to have his life artificially extended; if he can no longer express himself, a close relative must attest that this was his desire.

The law states that a terminally-ill patient's wishes must be respected, but that the caregivers must make a reasonable effort to persuade him to receive oxygen, food, liquids and routine treatments.

MK Sha'ul Yahalom (National Religious Party), who headed the joint Knesset Committee that dealt with the bill - made up of the Law and Welfare Committees - praised the public commission for its work. "The law meets the requirements of Jewish Law," he said, "and allows patients to live and die with honor."

The law does not apply to one who is not suffering in a "vegetative" state or a coma, because, as Yahalom explained, "Who knows if medicine won't find a cure for the condition in the future?"

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) voted against the law, saying that though it was a supremely important bill, not all Halakhic [Jewish-legal] authorities supported it. He was nonetheless happy with the fact that it prevented courts from intervening in such life-and-death issues.

Prof. Avraham Steinberg of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, the head of the public commission and a respected Torah scholar in matters of medicine, has written the following:

"A large portion of rabbinic authorities holds that the value of life is a sacred and most exalted value, but not an absolute value. Proofs for this are the fact that there are values that take precedence, such as the three sins which one must not violate even at the pain of death; going to war; and dying for the Sanctification of G-d's Name. In addition, there are situations in which life is 'set aside,' such as when one is trying to kill someone else [and a bystander may kill the pursuer]; court-imposed deaths for grave crimes; and especially end-of-life situations that involve great suffering, when according to Halakhic principles, it is permissible to refrain from extending the life under clearly defined conditions... The main Halakhic foundation of this approach is the principle of 'removing the impediment...'"

In fact, one of the Halakhic solutions found for the problem of non-renewal of life-saving activity is a Shabbat-clock device that prevents such activities from being renewed.

A Halakhic review on the topic (in Hebrew) can be viewed here.