Life support (illustration)
Life support (illustration) Thinkstock

An Orthodox Jewish group has taken legal action against a terminally ill patient's family, DNAinfo reported Thursday, in an attempt to prevent the patient from being taken off life support. 

Eileen Beth Kramer, 60, has been kept on life support at Brooklyn's Maimonides Medical Center for nearly three weeks.

But the question of her future has arose after Kramer, who is developmentally disabled and has been in the care of special-needs group the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC) for forty years, was slated to be taken off life support by her brother and legal guardian, Howard Kramer. 

According to Jewish law (halakha), every action must be done to save a person's life, including refraining from any action to hasten his or her death. 

As such, HASC - who has not assumed legal guardianship, but who has been the most closely involved with Kramer's care throughout her life - has filed a petition to keep Kramer alive, arguing that to take her off a respirator would violate her religious principles. 

"If such action were to be taken, it would constitute a violation of the very same Orthodox Jewish tradition that Ms. Kramer has lived for so long," the petition says. "It is particularly shocking that such a decision would be made on the eve of the Jewish High Holiday Season. Just mere days prior to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days on the Jewish Calendar."

HASC has argued, moreover, that she and Kramer, who lives in Denver, CO, have had "very little to do with each other." 

Howard Kramer has countered by taking a stand for his rights as his sister's legal guardian, and arguing that his sister is "too disabled" to have understood HASC's Orthodox principles. 

"She doesn't have the intellectual capability [to understand religion]," Howard Kramer said. "She lived [at HASC], she followed their rules, but she couldn't have held deeply religious beliefs because of her disability. She doesn't have any concept of what religion is."

The case was brought to the Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday, where Judge Larry Martin ordered a temporary restraining order on removing the ventilator. Meanwhile, both HASC and Kramer are awaiting the final decision. 

"A religious organization doesn't get to make the decision on a person's end-of-life care," Kramer maintained Thursday. "My point is that the issue here isn't whether she should be taken off life support - it's who has the right to decide."

"Right to life" cases have become more and more prominent in the US over the past twenty years, with the law slowly advancing to give legal guardians more rights to take their relatives off life support, through such reforms as Washington's 2008 "Death with Dignity" act and the 1990-2005 Terri Schiavo case.

According to a 2008 estimate in Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, at least 60-70% of patients being kept on a respirator or similar system are unable to determine their preference for further treatment. 

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