Torah For Today: ‘Do not resuscitate’ orders

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Torah For Today: ‘Do not resuscitate’ orders

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a topical issue and looks at an Orthodox response

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool

A recent study found that one-in-three Covid patients were given ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) orders during the first wave of the pandemic. So, what does the Torah have to say about this?

The Torah places supreme, although not absolute, value on human life.
It views human life as sacred, meaning that every medically feasible opportunity to afford someone a bearable extension of life or another chance to live with the prospect of recovery should be properly and fully examined before coming to a decision not to resuscitate.

However, in the situation where the organs are shutting down their functions then at the right point, and in consultation with the most competent medical staff available, a person must be allowed to pass away. 

Judaism traditionally accepts the leaving of the soul from the body as part of life’s natural course once the body is no longer viable, which according to the understanding of Jewish law would imply an independently functioning cardiopulmonary system. 

Failure to allow the passage of the soul out of the body by artificially stimulating organs without any reasonable hope of the body being able to ever function again is unacceptable, according to Rabbi Haim David HaLevy, the prominent decider of Jewish law and former Tel Aviv chief rabbi. 

As Rabbi Dr Moshe Tendler, son-in-law of the famed Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, told me 20 years ago, so long as the internationally accepted “Harvard criteria” are applied in medical settings to administer the stage by stage removal of life support medicine and machinery, halacha is being fully complied with. 

King Saul asked for his life to end quickly rather than suffer further unbearably from his wounds. This shows us clearly that living a little longer in terrible agony is not a halachic objective. 

The above is informative, not advisory for practical purposes and competent authorities must be consulted wherever possible.

  •  Rabbi Ariel Abel is  based in Liverpool 

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