This is not a political piece. Not by any stretch. Then again, I guess everything can be considered political in some sense. I recently began a class in my congregation on Responsa; the traditional literary motif of asking a question to a scholar and seeing that scholar’s response.
This has been a classic form of Jewish literature for centuries; sort of the original Q and A session. The first session was devoted to a discussion of some Responsa that I chose that spoke to the issue of medical technology and end of life care. We looked at some selections on “Relieving the Pain of A Dying Patient” and a few others associated with the subject. The students who were there, as usual, took the subject in a variety of different directions, often reflecting on personal stories.
What emerged, as often happens in these discussions, was the fear of being in a situation where your wishes for how you wish to be treated are not known. As a rabbi I get asked about this regularly. The growing awareness of the need to have your wishes known is a direct result of so many Boomers having to deal with horrific situations with our own parents. Many of us have lived through scenarios which have left us promising “that will not be me”. Medical technology has created so many “miracles” while also creating so many possibilities for people existing in a type of medical limbo.
At a recent conference that I spoke at I was introduced to another program that is gaining wide acceptance; a program designed to provide families with a tool to “have the conversation” about end of life issues.
The Conversation Project was created by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Ellen Goodman as a result of Goodman’s having to care for her mother. Her goal was to allow families to have the “conversation” around their kitchen table rather than stressed in the ICU. The Conversation Project is developing programs that seek the support of the medical and religious community and they have created a kit that assists a family in starting this most needed task. You can access the starter kit by going to www.theconversationproject.org.
Don’t wait too long.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min