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Society for Humanistic Judaism Supports Physician-Assisted Death
As Humanistic Jews, we believe that:
- Each human being should have control over his or her own body and autonomy in matters of personal concern.
- A competent adult diagnosed with a fatal disease that will cause unbearable pain and suffering has the right to die in a dignified and peaceful manner.
- Government has no substantial, legitimate interest in prolonging the lingering, painful death of a terminally ill person who wants to die.
- Physician-assisted death (PAD), also called physician-assisted suicide, in which a physician, at the request of a terminally ill patient, provides the patient with a lethal dose of medication that the patient can take when he/she is ready, promotes dignity and autonomy.
- Carefully constructed PAD laws—such as those adopted by Oregon, Vermont, and Washington and abroad by Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland—can protect human dignity and autonomy while preventing abuse and upholding the value of human life. Such laws may require two or more physician approvals, witnesses, waiting periods, multiple oral and written requests by the patient, a psychological examination, and/or consultation with family. Safeguards such as these can prevent abuse of PAD, which opponents claim could become a slippery slope leading to the indiscriminate killing of the ill, weak, and disabled.
- Without reasonable PAD laws, individuals may commit suicide in a violent way or needlessly suffer in an undignified manner.
- Opposition to suicide on religious grounds cannot justify prohibition of PAD, failure to permit it, or penalties on physicians who participate in it. Separation of church and state is a cornerstone of our democracy.
- Persons requesting PAD should be fully informed of alternatives, such as unconventional modes of treatment and palliative care. However, some such persons may view palliative treatment as prolonging the anguish of dying rather than enhancing life.
- Physicians who consider PAD to be inconsistent with the Hippocratic Oath and with their role as healers should have the right to refuse to engage in PAD.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Society for Humanistic Judaism:
- Affirms that mentally competent adults with irreversible, terminal medical conditions accompanied by intense suffering should have the right to physician assistance in dying.
- Applauds states and nations that have adopted PAD laws and urges other states and countries to adopt similar legislation. Such laws should contain reasonable safeguards to prevent abuse and to ensure that a decision to request PAD is informed, voluntary, and free of undue influence and that physicians who are conscientiously opposed to PAD are free not to participate in it.
— October 2013