health mind and body

Agudath Israel tackles end-of-life decisions

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During an intense, two-hour program, close to 100 lawyers absorbed potentially life-saving information at an Agudath Israel symposium entitled “Every Life is a Whole World,” on the delicate topic of end-of-life care for the Jewish patient. 

The Aug. 18 event covered New York State’s regulations on end-of-life care, a patient’s religious rights, and the Orthodox Jewish view that every life is precious, regardless of its perceived lack of quality.

Armed with a more complete understanding of the medical and halachic framework in which end-of-life decisions are made, participants left the event better prepared to fight for the rights of Jewish patients to extend and save their lives through appropriate, halachic end-of-life medical treatment.

The symposium was sponsored by Agudath Israel of America’s Commission on Torah Projects and the organization’s Legal Support Services and hosted by Allen and Overy LLP.

The evening began with introductory remarks by Moshe Silk, attorney at Allen and Overy and chair of Legal Support Services, who explained that most deaths in the United States are due to progressive illness, and that most people, Jews included, are unprepared for end-of-life issues.

Silk said that our society is preoccupied by the notion of dying “well,” something that is fundamentally different than the Jewish view that one should die at his or her heavenly destined time.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, noted that Agudath Israel formed Chayim Aruchim (The Center for Culturally Sensitive Health Advocacy and Counseling), as a separate division because so many cases were coming to the organization’s attention.

“There was a need to sensitize the community to the halachic issues surrounding end-of-life treatment and to the legal rights that patients and their families enjoy in end-of-life situations,” Rabbi Zwiebel said. “It is very important that the families on the ground receive guidance — whether it be halachic or practical.”

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