There are many hard choices to be made as the end of life seems to approach, and often we have the burden of having to choose for our loved ones as they are no longer capable of doing so.

Essentially, the key components of Jewish tradition are:

  1. Our life belongs to G‑d, who entrusted it to us to care for it and preserve it.

  2. Hence euthanasia, and all forms of it, are rejected by Jewish law. Life is G‑d's choice in us. As long as a person breathes and the soul is in the body, life has absolute and irrevocable value.

  3. At the same time, we accept that physical life is finite. Thus we are not obligated to proactively interfere with the process of dying. Medical measures that prolong life but also prolong suffering need not be taken.

  4. Generally speaking, autonomous breathing and heartbeat have to cease before we can harvest the organs of the deceased for transplant. Every life is of equal value—we may not sacrifice one life for the sake of another.

  5. There is a profound difference between intervention and non-intervention. If a particular medical intervention only prolongs dying and suffering there is no obligation to intervene. But if intervention is used to hasten dying—such as removing a respirator or feeding tube—the issues are far more problematic and need expert rabbinic opinion. This is because we may not hasten death at all. Also, intervention to provide nutrition is obligatory, as it is not considered a "medical" intervention.

These are the general guidelines that govern end-of-life issues in Jewish law. The details and applications to specific situations are often complex and difficult, and a competent local rabbinic authority should be consulted.

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