Sunday, November 16, 2008

Religion & Euthanasia - Judaism

In our past entries we have look at religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science and there stances on certain medical procedures, but we would like to switch gears for a bit. More specifically we’d like to take a look at the Jewish perspective on the subject.

Before we do though, something just occurred to us. Now when we talked about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science we focused on the refusal of medical procedures due to religious beliefs. According to the official euthanasia website, the differentiation between this type of behaviour and passive euthanasia is the ‘intent to kill’. But what if the patient does not know that they are basically killing themself. For example (I will use the refusal of blood transfusions as my example), what if a patient refuses a blood transfusion for a major surgery and the doctor knows that the person will die if they do so? What if the doctor tells the patient that they are basically committing suicide by refusing the blood transfusion for the major surgery? When does it start to count as euthanasia? Actually, can you imagine what type of dilemma this would cause for a doctor, in a patient role, who was also a Jehovah’s Witness? They would have to choose between their religious background and their medical background. On the one hand, they would have their faith that they believe in and moral rules that they have been living by for an extended period of time. On the other hand, they would have all of their medical knowledge that would be based on statistical fact. That is a moral dilemma that I would not want and one that I am glad I don’t have to deal with. But I digress.

Anyways, to get back on track, let’s talk a little bit about euthanasia and the Jewish perspective. Jewish Law has very strict rules regarding euthanasia. In Judaism, murder is one of the 3 cardinal sins and it can take 2 forms. The first type is to the detriment of the victim and the second type is to the benefit of the victim (the exact purpose of euthanasia). So even if euthanasia is done to help the patient, it is still considered murder according to Jewish Law.

The Jewish believe that all life was given by God and only he has the right to remove it. To draw on a quote from Jewish teachings, “He who closes the eyes of a dying person while the soul is departing is a murderer”. That’s a pretty clear cut statement. If I assist in someone’s death, regardless of reason, I am considered a murderer. Pretty straight forward...well almost.

Certain activities are still allowed under Jewish law, but it depends on how it is done. For example, if an individual wants to refrain from putting in a feeding tube, that is allowed to a certain degree. However, once that tube is already in the patient, it cannot be removed for the purpose of killing the client. Guess it all comes down to semantics and interpretation.

All religions have their views in terms of what is right and what is wrong. It is just up to each individual to determine what practices they will follow and what practices they will not. It is definitely clear though that the institution of religion can complicate medical practice. More cases regarding refusal of medical procedures to come in the next blog on religion.


Anonymous said...

hey guys,
the "cardinal" sins are a part of Christian teaching, not Jewish, and there are 7 of them, not three.
For a good discussion of the Jewish teachings on Euthanasia, see the article on at

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that being faced with the moral dilemma of choosing between religious beliefs and medical knowledge is one you would not like to be faced with, but we all have to choose whether to trust our doctors and believe they know what they are doing. In that case, religion may not necessarily complicate medical practices but may make these decisions easier to make. There are benefits and risks to any medical procedure, including blood transfusions. It is the duty of the health care professional to practice informed consent and tell you of all the benefits and risks of the procedure (including the possibility of harm coming to you) before you decide to go through with it. For the person influenced by religion, they may put their trust in their god and believe that things will turn out fine, therefore the refusal of some medical treatment may not be such a tough choice. But for those not influenced by religion, they must put their trust in the hands of their doctors and hope everything will be okay. Based on the tons of medical mistakes that are made each year, I don't know that that making this choice is any easier.