Another view of the right to die

By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

We discuss in this column mysteries not problems. Mysteries cannot be solved the way problems can be solved. We lay siege to problems but mysteries envelope us and implicate us. One of the mysteries we have confronted recently is the mystery of pain and death. Is there a point at which pain is so intractable that we ought to acknowledge the right of a patient to end his or her suffering by taking a fatal dose of some barbiturate and bringing to a self-inflicted end, the agony of dying?

I have taken the position that God owns our bodies and that such a decision is neither our right nor the right of a physician whose only mandate is to heal. I do agree that medical procedures at the end of life that have no therapeutic value can be ended so as to let death take its natural course.

However, a compassionate and wise reader who is a physician has a different approach to this enduring mystery,

Dear Rabbi Gellman,

After reading your column "Death is in the hands of a higher power" (Jan. 26, 2020), I feel the need to respectfully take issue with some of your opinions. I will state at the outset that I am a strong supporter of medical aid in dying, which is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia and is being actively considered by legislatures in many other states. While palliative care for terminally ill persons who are suffering can produce good results for many, there are many who are close to death and are needlessly enduring unbearable suffering despite all medical and palliative interventions. The pending medical aid in dying legislation in New York, which is essentially very similar to that in jurisdictions where it is now legal, contains the following provisions.

1. The patient must be 18 years old or older and must voluntarily apply to be included in the program.


2. The patient's physician must determine that the patient has a terminal condition and the mental capacity to make an informed decision and is not being coerced into applying for the program.

3. The patient's physician must refer the patient to a consulting physician to determine that the patient has a terminal condition, has the mental capacity to make an informed decision and is not being coerced into applying for the program.

4. If either of the two physicians feel that the patient does not have the mental capacity to make an informed decision the patient must be referred to a mental health professional for evaluation.

5. Those with dementia and other conditions that impair their decision-making capability are not eligible.


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