Recently, Gov. Brown of California signed into law that states’ choice in dying law. California now joins several other states in allowing terminal patients to choose the course of their life. There are a series of restrictions and constraints. As we have mentioned, other states have similar bills pending. My own state of New Jersey has a bill that has passed the lower house last Fall and is scheduled, according to latest communications, to be read into state Senate for a vote in the very near future. The state polls favor the passage of such a bill. I have written in favor of the bill.
This issue points to a larger issue that needs to be kept on the front burner of family issues.
The on-going discussion on the need for families to create a plan for end of life decisions and care plans continues to be important. These bills, which re-inforce the value of a person’s ability to choose, speak to the cultural change now taking place. Boomers are desirous to exert more control of our life, even as that life ebbs. This issue is often discussed in the media as “assisted suicide”. I suggest that this is not a valid term, It really is a “choice in dying” bill, it places the responsibility of choice on the individual and the family–where it belongs. It opens the door for the necessity for families to discuss what people wish.
Jewish tradition would seem to stand against such legislation. There are varying points of view: the tradition which holds that we are creations of God and that our lives are not ours to do with what we wish; versus the texts that celebrate the value of choice and free will. However, if you take a look at recent articles and columns, I suggest that you can make the case that we have a change in attitude. Two decades ago the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution at their Biennial on Comfort Care, calling for more education on these issues, in favor of hospice care and palliative care. In a 1990’s article from “Tradition”, the quarterly journal of the modern Orthodox community, the issue of “quality of life” was raised as a major consideration in end of life decision making. Response (question and answers to scholars on specific issues) literature also introduced issues of “double effect” within Jewish tradition. All of this can be seen as a movement to take in to account the impact of medical technology and individual autonomy on decision making.The mood of Jewish tradition sees no value on excessive pain and suffering.
This discussion needs to continue in our congregations and agencies. We favor the creation of annual education programs that address this issue, making use of resources and texts that allow for people to examine their wishes in light of tradition. This is just the beginning of a larger–and much needed discussion. We urge you to bring this conversation to your congregation, and your family.
Rabbi Richard F. Address