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Doctor-Assisted Suicide

May 9, 2009 | by Sid Bernstein, Esq.

An act of mercy or murder? The controversy rages on as laws spring up legalizing doctor-assisted suicide.

Reported on Sept. 30, 1997

Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted in the suicide of a Colorado multiple sclerosis patient whose body was discovered in a motel room.

A letter released by the office of Kevorkian's lawyer stated that Kari Miller, 54, of Englewood, Colorado, left a note saying she could no longer sit or lie down because of the excruciating pain, and could hardly walk. Her body was found at a Red Roof Inn in a suburb of Detroit.

"The pain I was forced to live with and what the MS had done to me became intolerable," she wrote. MS "had robbed me of all my dignity and my zest for life."


Should Kevorkian-style services be available to any patient who is terminally ill and facing certain death within six months?

Is there a difference whether the patient is in unremitting physical pain, or whether they are suffering from emotional despair?

Is it a relevant factor that the pain could be reduced through modern pain-management techniques?

Should the option of a support group and hospice care be made mandatory for all terminally ill patients?


Barry Greenman wrote:

I oppose assisted suicide. It's a cheap way for the elite to avoid caring for the helpless.

Anita wrote:

I have seen the damage that Dr. Kevorkian has caused. What he calls "medicide," I call "murder." He has as much right to help someone kill themselves as I do. Only I would be arrested for the act.

Kathryn wrote:

My grandmother is very ill with Parkinson's Disease. She has been hospitalized for over 10 years. She lost her husband to cancer. She can no longer speak clearly or see very well. She has not walked in over nine years. She cannot feed herself and wears diapers. Influenza spreads through the hospital every now and then, and a few people die each time. Recently she started to choke on her food a lot, due to some of the medication she was on.

It hurts me very much to visit my grandmother and see her suffering ... but it also inspires me.

It hurts me very much to visit her and see her suffering ... but it also inspires me. She wants to live her life to the best of her capabilities as long as she possibly can. She is in pain and she is lonely and she is paralyzed, yet she still goes on living with a courage most people never see.

How can we judge for someone else whether they want to be alive or not if they cannot speak? It is not our place to take away from them the chance to try.We can pray for their recovery, but if none comes, it is not our place to destroy something that God made. wrote:

If euthanasia becomes legal, many families will pressure grandma or grandpa to have it done, eliminating the expense of a final illness, and smelling a larger inheritance after they are gone. Health insurance providers will also start refusing to pay for expensive care in the last year of life, on the grounds that the patient is going to die anyway.

Why look for expensive cures for cancer when you can put the patient out of his misery for much less money?

In fact, with the chance of doing away with sick people, there will be less reason to spend millions on medical research. Why look for expensive cures for cancer when you can put the patient out of his misery for much less money? When people become old, confused, or depressed, their relatives will nag them to "do it," and many will yield to their family's pressure. People do not realize the full scope of evil they invite if they seek to legalize euthanasia.


Measure #16 was a referendum presented to the residents of the State of Oregon in 1994 concerning the "Death with Dignity Act." We present here the argument of C. Everett Koop:

As former United States Surgeon General, I have worked first hand in developing health care policies. Many proposed policies at first sound like good ideas, but in fact are very dangerous. Measure #16 is one of those policies.

Measure #16 confuses the role of physicians in our society. Doctors have an ethical and professional responsibility to sustain life when possible. Measure #16 would create an environment where physician-assisted suicide becomes the first line of defense against terminal diseases, resulting in final and fatal decisions. The medical profession cannot be society's healer and killer at the same time.

A patient's request for suicide is a signal that certain needs are not being met.

Measure #16 prescribes suicide as a treatment for disease. A patient's request for suicide is a signal that certain needs are not being met. Most likely, the patient is suffering from unnecessary pain or treatable depression. Doctors too often fail to dispense adequate pain management. The solution is to provide mental health treatment or better pain management, not drugs for suicide. This is the time for the doctor to be the patient's support, not his/her killer.

Measure #16 is ripe for abuse. The so-called safeguards built into Measure #16 are inadequate. Patients remain vulnerable to outside pressures to choose suicide. Physicians are required only to suggest the patient notify family members, leaving many to choose suicide without the support of loved ones.

Measure #16 strikes at the most vulnerable. Cost containment is a positive and necessary step toward health care reform. However, in this environment Measure #16 is dangerous. Poor, elderly, frail and disabled patients will be the victims if the "choice" to die becomes the "duty" to die.


In Jewish law, any form of active euthanasia is strictly prohibited and condemned as plain murder.

The fact that the patient is in unremitting pain and pleads for assistance in ending his life does not change the law. Anyone who kills a dying person is liable to the death penalty as a common murderer.

Active euthanasia, by means of an overt act to hasten death is prohibited, even if the patient is suffering great pain and discomfort, as explained by the following Talmudic and Rabbinic sources:

One who is in a dying condition is regarded as a living person in all respects. (Talmud - Smachot 1:1)

One may not close the eyes of a dying person ... Rabbi Meir would say: "It is to be compared to a sputtering candle which is extinguished as soon a person touches it - so too, whoever closes the eyes of a dying person is compared to have taken the soul." (Talmud - Smachot 1:4)

Even the removal of a pillow when a person is in death throes, thereby hastening death, is forbidden. (Rabbi Moses Isserles, Code of Jewish Law)

It is permitted to administer morphine, etc., to a dying person when necessary to relieve pain, even when though there is a known risk of hastening the [patient's] death, provided that the sole intention of the therapy is to relieve pain and suffering. This is only true if each injection, in and of itself, is not certain to shorten the patient's life, rather the cumulative effect may be life-shortening. However, in a case where even one injection of morphine might cause spontaneous respiration to cease, it is forbidden to administer this drug, even if he is in serious pain, unless the patient will be mechanically respirated. (Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Nishmat Avraham, Vol. 2, Yoreh Deah 339:4)

Life, be it for 120 years, or a split second, is of infinite value - mystical, and unfathomable. Therefore the quality of life at any one moment does not alter its infinite value.

DISCLAIMER: This module discusses sources for the purpose of education. Any real-life situation must be discussed with a rabbi, well-versed in Jewish law.

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