A matter of life and death

A matter of life and death

Narishkeit abounds about the absurd idea – given the alarming and alarmist name of “death panels” by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – that this country would euthanize its elderly and disabled citizens to save money. (That’s the former Republican vice-presidential nominee’s take on the 2007 Medicare End-of-Life Planning Act, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson from Georgia. He has, as the Washington Post points out, “proposed a similar amendment to the House bill’s Section 1233 during the Senate HELP Committee’s mark-up of its health care bill.” He also told the Post that Palin’s interpretation is “nuts.” Note to readers: Please don’t accuse us of attacking her; that word comes from a member of her own party. And whether she’s “nuts” or not – that’s not for us to decide – she’s clearly wrong.)

At any rate, this seems like a good time to note that Jews and Jewish law have never shied away from end-of-life issues.

In fact, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, issued its revised halachic health-care proxy on Monday, a significant moment in the national health-care debate. The other Jewish movements have also urged attention to health care, issuing guidelines for end-of-life decisions and, in some cases, health-care proxy forms.

Jewish law has guidance for some of the hardest decisions most of us will have to make, particularly given continuing advances in medicine. For example, would we prefer aggressive treatment? Would we want to be told bad news? Whom would we appoint to make further decisions, if necessary? Which rabbi might we want to be consulted? It would be so much easier on our families if we made those decisions before they are needed – and if we wrote our wishes down, preferably on legally binding forms.

The revised RCA proxy has a useful feature we believe is new: It can be registered with the U.S. Living Will Registry, which, the RCA notes, “will maintain a copy on a secure website that can be accessed instantly by healthcare providers around the country 24 hours a day through its automated service.” We can see that might save a lot of trouble.

In fact, anyone can register a standard living will at www.uslivingwillregistry.com.

For the RCA’s health-care proxy, go to www.rabbis.org/pdfs/FINAL_Revised_Halachic_Health_Care_Proxy.pdf.
For the advance directive from the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, go to www.rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/19861990/mackler_care.pdf.

For the Union for Reform Judaism’s guidelines, go to urj.org//life/family/aging//?syspage=article&item_id=17000.


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