A recent article in the N.Y. Times set out some new boundaries on the discussion regarding end of life care and the role of the family and the physician concerning who makes decisions. The piece, in Friday August 1, page A-11, is entitled “French Families Challenge Doctors on Wrenching End-Of-Life Decisions”. It seems that in France doctors have a much greater ability to decide when a person;s life may end. It seems that recently there has been a rising tide of concern about this issue and the role of the doctor. A doctor was acquitted of “poisoning deaths of seven people”. As the article states: “Demographic pressures are making end-of-life care a contentious moral, legal and economic issue in many countries. Aging populations and the growing cost of caring for them have left governments confronting trade-offs in policies affecting the closing weeks and months of life”.
I mention this article because it is an example, I feel, of a growing trend, sparked in large part by Boomers. We want “in” on decision-making, we want a say in how we may choose to live out our final days. The system in the USA is also changing. There are now five states that have passed a “right to die” bill. My own state of New Jersey has such a bill in the legislature and it should emerge again in the next session. This all points again to the need for families to have “the conversation” about one’s wishes. It just makes a lot of sense on several levels. There are a wide variety of tools that have been created to help facilitate these discussions. Organizations from “The Conversation Project” in Massachusetts to the creation of a national day devoted to health care decision-making (mid April) are all over the net. Increasingly religious organizations will hold forums and seminars that teach this issue from their own theological slant. All of this is needed. Medical technology continues to push that boundary of sustaining life. As some have noted, however, just because medicine can do something does not mean that we must or should.
This issue is heart of our social fabric. The more knowledge and discussion around it, the better we all will be.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min