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‘Death with dignity’ bill gets broad panel approval

Ha’Aretz (Israeli daily) March 22, 2001 edition

‘Death with dignity’ bill gets broad panel approval

By Gideon Alon

Ha’aretz Correspondent

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee yesterday approved a bill enabling anyone over the age of 18 to sign a statement instructing physicians not to extend their lives by artificial means if they stand no chance of recovery.

The bill, pushed by Meretz MK Anat Maor and Labor MK Avi Yehezkel, actually amends the criminal law by determining that a physician will not be liable for prosecution if he or she denies medical treatment in the form of artificial life support, mechanical breathing, dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation or transfusions to terminally ill patients who have signed the statement.

The bill, on this, its first committee reading, won support from a wide spectrum of MKs, including ultra-Orthodox legislators, who congratulated the former chairman of the committee, Meretz MK Amnon Rubinstein, for working out a draft that did not violate halakha.

The new law creates a simple form that can be signed by anyone over the age > of 18, and is renewable every five years. The form states: “In case I am not able to take an active, conscious part in decisions regarding medical treatment to be given me, and on condition that two doctors, independent of one another reach the conclusion that I am terminally ill, I wish that my life not be extended in any way and that I not be given various forms of treatment. I should receive only the necessary treatment to protect my comfort and dignity, and to prevent any pain that any reasonable person would not be able to bear.” A patient can cancel the signed statement orally, at any point, according to the law.

The law passed the committee unanimously. Shas MK David Tal said he believes that if the law is understood by the ultra-Orthodox community, it will be supported.

The committee’s legal advisor, retired Judge Shlomo Shoham, worked hard to obtain a unanimous vote, emphasizing that the law works by protecting the doctor, rather than by protecting the patient’s right to die.

Maor praised the fact that both secular and religious legislators supported the law. “We are now enabling people who have lost their dignity to choose whether to live longer.