Terminally-ill Patients and end of life issues

Jewish law prohibits any active intervention that would hasten the death of a terminal patient. The patient should be kept as comfortable as possible. It is not permitted to move a dying patient as this may hasten death. Where this is thought to be necessary, a Rabbi should be consulted.

When patients with life threatening conditions are admitted to the hospital, they or their families will often be asked if they would like to sign a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. This order means that that if the patient’s heart stops beating, or if they stop breathing, the medical staff will not initiate CPR or
any life-saving manoeuvres. Jewish law emphatically emphasises the preservation of life, though there may be circumstances when a DNR order would still conform to Jewish law. In some situations, a DNR order may be perceived as an order to refrain from any aggressive therapy for the patient — DNT, Do Not Treat. It is essential that the family clarifies their specific intentions and all limitations to the DNR order.

A patient who is dying may wish to recite the “Shema”, which is a Hebrew declaration of belief in God. He may also wish to make a death-bed confession known as “Viddui”. In addition the patient may want to see a Rabbi with whom to say these prayers, or wish for Psalms to be recited. If possible arrangements should be made for the patient’s own Rabbi to attend. Failing this the official Jewish Chaplain attached to the particular hospital should be contacted, or if this is not possible then Jewish Visiting can arrange for the attendance of a Rabbi. There is no special ceremony of “last rites”.

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