Jew­ish Ethics and the Care of End-of-Life Patients: A Col­lec­tion of Rab­bini­cal, Bioeth­i­cal, Philo­soph­i­cal, and Juris­tic Opinions

Peter Joel Hur­witz, Jacques Picard, Avra­ham Stein­berg, eds.
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011

The inter­sec­tion of improved liv­ing stan­dards and mod­ern medicine’s abil­i­ty to keep alive patients who might oth­er­wise die has cre­at­ed halakhic dilem­mas not envi­sioned by the ear­ly sages. These so-called end-of-life” issues are con­tro­ver­sial and heart­break­ing at the same time, and include assist­ed sui­cide, with­drawl of med­ical care, and the sanc­ti­ty of life. From a unique­ly Jew­ish per­spec­tive, this book helps the read­er make sense of these topics. 

The vol­ume is divid­ed into dis­crete chap­ters, respon­sa, real­ly, each on a spe­cif­ic end-of-life sit­u­a­tion, many writ­ten by well-known Jew­ish med­ical ethi­cists and schol­ars. The best of these chap­ters mas­ter­ful­ly weave med­ical, philo­soph­i­cal, and Tal­mu­dic opin­ions into a cogent response use­ful to the read­er regard­less of his/​her reli­gion or lev­el of edu­ca­tion. The read­er can peruse all the chap­ters or obtain knowl­edge on a spe­cif­ic top­ic of interest. 

Per­haps this book is most rel­e­vant for those fam­i­lies specif­i­cal­ly deal­ing with end­of- life issues, offer­ing com­fort, guid­ance, and Jew­ish thought for those most inti­mate, per­plex­ing deci­sions. An exam­ple might be whether to with­draw med­ical care from a comatose patient who might sur­vive but not be able to care for him­self. As a physi­cian who fre­quent­ly con­fronts patients with these prob­lems, I found that the opin­ions expressed here offer a unique per­spec­tive from which to ini­ti­ate fam­i­ly discussions. 

How­ev­er, this col­lec­tion of opin­ions stands on its own as a schol­ar­ly work, offer­ing a wide range of voic­es and wellthough- out halakhic opin­ions on uni­ver­sal, front-burn­er top­ics. In lieu of spe­cif­ic Tal­mu­dic train­ing, this vol­ume can be the only resource nec­es­sary for deal­ing with some of these chal­leng­ing clin­i­cal problems.

Paul M. Arnold, MD, is pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery and direc­tor of the Spinal Cord Injury Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas.

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