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Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Last week, the Dutch Parliament officially legalized what has been common practice in the Netherlands for many years: the killing of patients by doctors.


Their illnesses need not even be terminal for patients to qualify for the now-legal administration of a lethal poison. And, needless to say, the procedure is not reversible. But still, there are controls built into the law: patients must clearly request to die, and their physicians must feel convinced of their sincerity. Children seeking to have their lives ended, moreover, can only do so if they are at least 12 years old. And, if under 16, they will need their parents' approval.

Assisted suicide may prove the wave of the future. The Johnny Appleseed of medical euthanasia, Jack Kevorkian (affectionately known to many as "Dr. Death"), has achieved near folk-hero status among some liberal minded folk. Oregon already permits doctors to help patients end their lives, though the lethal drugs must be administered by the patient. And even The New York Times has euphemistically advocated "more humane policies for easing the last days of the terminally ill" - leaving the rubbery phrases "humane policies," "last days" and even "terminally ill" for future clarification.

Jews, by contrast, have a clear religious tradition on the matter: even a moment of human life is invaluable.

While Judaism teaches that life in this world is not all there is. This world alone is the place for accomplishment. And even a tiny slice of time can be used to accomplish much. A smile can be shared, a kind word spoken; an apology can be offered, or a regret confronted; repentance can be achieved or peace made. Even people who seem unaware of their surroundings or entirely unconscious may well be functioning inwardly, spiritually, in meaningful ways.

That is the Jewish understanding of life's inherent worth. Modern society, however, has a very different take.

From the nearly non-stop portrayals of death and violence in what passes for contemporary "entertainment" to the all-too-real carnage on our cities' streets, the idea of human life as sacred has become increasingly unfashionable. In a world where youngsters regularly murder for a car, a pair of shoes or even just "for fun," or where women routinely decide to stop an unborn baby's heart to accommodate their own personal or professional goals, an elderly or infirm person's life just doesn't command the consequence it once did.

Nor have some of the elements of the "intelligentsia" been hesitant to assist in the devaluation of human life.

Peter Singer, for example, the famed Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University's Center for Human Values, has proposed the termination (even without niceties like consent) of what he calls "miserable beings" – people whose lives he deems devoid of pleasure. His support of involuntary euthanasia and infanticide is not likely endorsed by most academicians, but the expansion of once-fringe ideas is precisely what slippery slopes are all about.

Professor Singer knows that. Once society jettisons "doctrines about the sanctity of human life," he predicts, it will be "the refusal to accept killing that, in some cases, [will be seen as] horrific."

How tragically ironic that those are the views of a son of Viennese Jews, refugees of the murder-machine that was the Third Reich. Or that another 'member of the tribe', Israeli artist, Uri Lifschitz, echoing the Nazis' own language, has opined that society's time and energy should "be directed toward improving the race, not nurturing the handicapped."

"Those who are incapable of taking care of their needs," he added, "should die of hunger because they are useless."

Not mainstream views, perhaps, but they are clearly in the current of public discourse. And even in contemporary America, where there is still considerable public aversion for assisted suicide and euthanasia, doctors report that both occur in American hospitals much more frequently than most of us realize. One can only imagine what would happen if medical killing were given the imprimatur of legality here it now enjoys in the Netherlands.

We live in times when the elderly and diseased are rapidly increasing in number. Modern medicine has made great strides, increasing longevity and providing cures for many once-fatal illnesses. Add skyrocketing insurance costs and the resultant fiscal crisis in health care, and life runs the risk of becoming less a holy, invaluable divine gift than... a commodity.

And every businessman knows how important it is to efficiently turn over one's stock, to clear out the old and make way for the new.

Societal shifts toward the acceptance of medical murder tend to happen in stages. As the current shift proceeds in our country, all Americans would do well to recognize that long falls often begin with small stumbles. And those of us who are Jews should consider as well that we have a responsibility not only to live our lives in consonance with Torah but also to proclaim the truths of our holy tradition to the larger world.

That is what our ancestors did in ancient cultures that celebrated paganism and immorality.

And what we must unabashedly do in a modern culture that devalues life.

With thanks to Am Echad Resources.

Click here for related articles:
Doctor-Assisted Suicide
Compassionate Murder

December 2, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 23

(23) John Gabriel, July 30, 2012 11:25 PM

Any one whether ill or not should be afforded assisted suicide.

Any one whether ill or not, should be afforded assisted suicide at his chosen time. Just as no one has the right to take my life, no one has the right to force me to live against my wishes. Legalize assisted suicide now!

(22) Beverly Margolis-Kurtin, June 14, 2012 3:42 AM

Intractable pain

I've lived with intractable pain for a long time. I've tried just about every kind of pain relief extant to no avail. Someone suggested that I might think about suicide. All I could do was shake my head and asked if they would consider it in my place. He answered in the negative. I wondered why suicide would be for me but not for him. Needless to say, I've had three doctors suggest "grass." But I live in Texas where hell will freeze over before evangelicals will permit it. So I did the only thing that really works: Hypno-analgesia. A professional psychologist who specialized in pain control using the incredible brain Hashem gave us all. When the pain becomes too intense, I simply turn it down to an acceptable level. It is impossible for me as a Jew to contemplate suicide, but totally acceptable of hypnosis. For anyone who thinks that hypnosis is a state in which you are somehow not fully awake and aware of what is going around you...that is pure nonsense. I have total control at all times, but can now, after a few years of practice, almost instantly go into a "trance" state and turn down the pain; I've been doing it while writing this. We, my family and I, had had to put down a few of our cats. Our grief was real as they were not just pets, they were more like animal companions who seemed to sense when we were down and knew how to make us smile. But while we had no guilt abuot having to end their lives because of incurable diseases they had, it would have been inhumane not to have put them to sleep. But I totally agree that the holiness of humanity is too sacred to cut short. My mother, rest her soul, managed to pull off her final practical joke after she had passed, helping us to remember the really wonderful things she had done during her life. The saddest I ever witnessed was my father's funeral. His casket was alone, none of his old friends came to his funeral. It was just my brother and I plus the rabbi and his wife. He had no friends left. Too sad .

(21) Anonymous, February 9, 2012 5:35 PM

its just not right.

assisted suicide is wrong, not only are you giving up on everything life has to offer but your putting someone else in the position to help you and live with the idea of murder in the back of their heads. it should not be legalized.

(20) Tia, November 20, 2011 4:27 PM

How dare you. Who are you to decide that your beliefs and religious values are what should decide whether a person suffering from constant debilitating pain should be forced to survive. Your religious arguments in this article have reminded me why I choose to practice atheism. The amount of control that you would like to exercise over suffering people is absolutely astounding to me. I would never take it upon myself to choose whether another person should live or die, that decision belongs to not a God (Christian or otherwise), not a doctor and not a person writing an article on the internet but to the individual in pain. I would like to believe that I am in control of my own life and should I choose to end it in the event of a terminal illness then it is my perrogative, provided that I am not suffering from a mental disorder that would cloud my judgement. I am not encouraging people to commit suicide, nor am I saying that all those with pain should enlist the help of a doctor to commit suicide. What I am arguing is for the choice. The choice to decide what to do with your own body. It is all about individual choice, something that in my experience religious sects lack. Please allow capable adults to take their lives into their own hands. We must allow others to make their own decisions regardless of our own biased preferences. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to express my opinion, I look forward to reading and responding to several more articles.

(19) , March 17, 2010 8:52 PM

how is it not suicide? when you think about killing yourself your making a decision to end your life and thats also what you do when you ask someine to kill you because your also making that one serious descision.... right?

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