After years of preparation involving doctors and rabbis, Israel has added a new law to its statute that states that the life of a terminally ill person who is in great pain and does not wish to continue to live will not be extended artificially.
Some 22 Knesset Members voted in favor of the government sponsored Passive Euthanasia Law, to which private proposals were added by a number of Knesset Members. Only three voted against the law.
The law will come into effect in a year’s time, and the Ministry of Health and hospitals will begin preparations for its application.
Health Minister Danny Naveh described the passing of the law as a historic moment, saying: “This is one of the most important laws passed by the Knesset. It represents major moral value for the terminally ill and their families.”
Knesset Member Reshef Chayne (Shinui), who added his own proposal to the law, said during the meeting: “Every person should be able to give written instructions, while being fully aware, in which they can say that if they are in a permanent vegetative state, and dependent on resuscitation, they can be disconnected from life support machines. In a situation of terminal illness, there is redemption in this option, which has been previously denied. Worse, a prolonging of life at times causes suffering to the patient.”
He added: “If it was up to me, the same should be true of those in non-terminally ill situations, like a vegetative state.”
Knesset Member Moshe Gafni (Degel HaTorah) said, “This is a supremely important law in the sphere of morals.” However, he decided to object to the law, “because not all of the rulings of Jewish law have been upheld.”
The law will apply to people with incurable diseases who have up to six months to live, or a person who has suffered a number of bodily system crashes, and who doctors believe has up to two weeks to live.
‘Current law not enough’
The law says that if a patient is unable to express an opinion, a decision will be taken based on instructions he or she gave to doctors beforehand. If there are no such instructions, a declaration will have to be made by a close relative or custodian.
According to the law, a child or teenager younger than 17 may be represented by his or her parents. In the case of disagreement between the parents, or between parents and medical staff, an institutional committee will make the decision.
The law is also based on halacha, or Jewish law, which was used to approach the problematic issue of discontinuing life support machines.
Yitzhak Hoshen, who handled many requests by terminally ill patients to be disconnected from life support machines, told Ynet that the law was important, but not sufficient. “This law only deals with a terminally ill patient who has days to live. It doesn’t deal with other situations, like when patients with incurable diseases have many years to live, such as those who are in vegetative states,” he said.