On April 14, 1975, Karen Ann Quinlan inadvertently consumed a combination of drugs and alcohol that plunged her into a prolonged coma requiring life support. On March 31, 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling allowing Ms. Quinlan to forgo life-sustaining medical treatment. For the US, it was the beginning of the right-to-die movement. After Ms. Quinlan was disconnected from the respirator, she perplexed the medical community by breathing independently for nine more years, remaining unconscious.

Approximately eighty percent of the all American deaths a year take place in health care facilities under medical supervision. The revolution in medical technology has not only extended life expectancy, but has also led to challenging dilemmas in cases of patients dependent on life support equipment. Some live on in a state of terminal illness, comatose or even in a “Persistent Vegetative State” – sometimes for years.

How to manage end of life care is a growing concern across the globe – one that crosses legal, moral, and religious lines. The use of living wills stipulating euthanasia (when the life-shortening procedure or withholding of treatment is done by another party such as a physician) and physician-assisted suicide (when the patient takes his life, guided by the physician) have become increasingly sought-after options in the end of life decision-making process.

Although prohibited in most countries worldwide, as of 2013, euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and physician-assisted suicide is legal in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the US states of Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. It is therefore critical to understand the Jewish ethical and legal perspectives to navigate end of life care situations. This new NLE Morasha shiur will explore Jewish views on the value of life, the treatment of terminally ill patients, euthanasia and patient autonomy.


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