A guide for the perplexed about end-of-life issues

A guide for the perplexed about end-of-life issues

Rabbi David Feldman’s new book "Where There’s Life, There’s Life" addresses the most difficult topics in bioethics, namely, end-of-life issues, with sensitivity and compassion. Feldman is well known in the field of bioethics, as author of the often quoted seminal work "Birth Control in Jewish Law" and as an articulate and insightful speaker. His vision, and his vast experience as a practicing rabbi come through loud and clear in his treatise on life and death.

The sanctity of life is the main theme of the book, especially as it relates to the Jewish principle of pikuach nefesh, preservation of life. This is a cornerstone of Jewish bioethics; it can determine how Jewish health-care professionals practice medicine, and it can influence the difficult decisions faced by Jewish patients. While many writers in the field struggle with the thorny issues, Feldman elegantly and gracefully addresses the difficult topics, always returning to the "greatest mitzvah … the saving of a life."

His discussion on organ transplantation helps the reader understand how and why Jewish attitudes on organ donation have changed so dramatically in the past few decades. Organ donation, which previously had been considered taboo, is now viewed by many Jews as a mitzvah. Since technical advances in transplantation science have resulted in high levels of success and many lives saved, and since the preservation of life is a prime Jewish directive, it follows that using organs from the deceased can now be justified.

The chapters are well organized and flow naturally from one topic to the next. They include general thoughts on the sanctity of life, which are well illustrated with anecdotes from scripture and Talmud. Feldman also cites examples from Jewish history and includes insights from rabbinic sources and other experts throughout the ages. Recent case studies are cited, especially in the discussions on reproductive technology, abortion and stem cells, and organ transplantation.

This is a well-researched and highly scholarly book that is eminently readable. Anyone who has dealt with serious illness or has lost a loved one will be moved by the issues, and by its sensitive tone.

The questions about when life begins and when it ends cannot be resolved in one book. But Feldman’s book helps readers ask and understand the difficult questions of life and death; it gives readers insight into the Jewish views of life and death issues. It is a valuable addition to any Jewish home.

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