My son was struggling for life and then an unfeeling doctor made it even worse.

We feel nothing but gratitude for all the heroic doctors and nurses who supported our son, Yechezkel Nochum (may he rest in peace), throughout the time he spent in the hospital. They were uniformly professional and caring. They were respectful of the pain our family was going through and demonstrated through their actions and words that they would do anything to support him throughout his short life.

With one exception.

Yechezkel was less than a week old and had just had another “desat.” Without warning, his oxygen levels plummeted and his heart rate slowed. Sirens went off throughout the ward and doctors and nurses flooded into his room to resuscitate him. Leah and I stood there terrified and helpless, watching and praying, not knowing whether every second would be his last.

By the grace of G‑d, they managed to stabilize Yechezkel, and he resumed breathing on his own again. The staff all filed back out of the room, as we stammered our inadequate words of thanks. Everyone left, except for one doctor we had never seen before, who imperiously summoned us to join her in a small side room off the main ward.

She insisted we immediately sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order that, in the event of a similar episode, would instruct the hospital staff to allow him to pass away. She was dogmatic and domineering. When we didn’t agree right away, she became even more assertive and accused us of causing our beloved son to suffer.

I am a rabbi. I have studied at length the weighty topic of when Judaism demands we take heroic measures to preserve life, given by the Almighty G‑d, and what medical interventions are considered essential. We were in constant consultation with a world-renowned expert on medical ethics and halachah. I have previously accompanied congregants through this terrible journey and was awake to the challenges and complexities of making such a heart-breaking decision. Working with Yechezkel’s doctors, we had just agreed a day earlier on a personal care plan that allowed us to abide by halachah, while doing our best to prevent needless suffering. But this doctor obviously decided that she knew better. Even I began to waver in the face of her strident insistence that we follow her instructions and sign the DNR immediately.

I will never forget the arrogant way in which she looked at us and declared, “We’ve had many religious people like you in here before, but in the end they always agree to do the right thing.”

Thank G‑d she finally allowed us to return to our son’s bedside and we took a time-out to call our son’s neonatologist. He was appalled by our report of the conversation and whole-heartedly encouraged us to abide by the tenets of our faith.

Our son passed away at home, in our arms, a few days later. At least we could be comforted with the knowledge that we had done everything possible for him during his short sojourn on this earth, protecting him and nurturing him, both physically and spiritually.

State-Sanctioned Murder

I was reminded again of the unpleasant episode with that paternalistic doctor as I read the awful reports of the murder of 2-year-old Alta Fixler (may she rest in peace) on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Manchester, UK. I grieve together with Alta’s parents and I pray that they find comfort.

Whereas we only encountered one unpleasant doctor and the decision over our son’s best interest was ultimately left to us, in Alta’s case the entire UK medical and legal establishment banded together to murder her. The judges had no qualms about making decisions for Alta, against the express wishes of her parents and in defiance of the dictates of Alta’s religion.

Was there no room for G‑d? Has hope and faith, vital tools in both the doctors’ and patients’ path to healing, been legislated out of existence?

This was not a question of saving money for the British Health Service, as both Israel and America had agreed to accept her, and members of Alta’s community were willing to fully fund the costs of her transfer and treatment. This was purely a case of the State asserting control over an individual, abrogating parental rights and deciding that the secular ideals and atavistic morality of some doctors and judges pre-empt the faith-based perspective of Alta’s parents.

Alta was alive and breathed on her own for 90 minutes after her breathing tube was removed. According to Jewish law everyone has the right to hydration, nutrition and respiration and the removal of that breathing tube was tantamount to murder. I can accept that others might have different views, yet how could contemporary society not reciprocally respect another perspective on what constituted Alta’s best interest?

It is shocking that in a world that trumpets individual rights and inclusiveness, the only outlook that doesn’t seem to count are the timeless values of faith and trust in G‑d. What did the judge use as the basis of his decision, other than a vague personal sense of what Alta might prefer? Why aren’t the millennia-long traditions of Judaism and its bedrock principles of the sacredness of life not accorded at least equal respect as that of the personal morality of the judge? When did the values of society morph to the situation where the State accords to itself the sole right over life and death, in the face of every counterargument?

We read in the Torah the tragic story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). The Torah justifies G‑d’s wrath by explaining that the people of Sodom were “wicked sinners” (13:13). One of the traditional descriptions of the iniquities of the inhabitants of Sodom was that the judicial system was a law unto itself, with no higher moral value than the short-term personal interest of its judges. They abrogated property rights and used judicial fiat to take human life, without any need to justify themselves. There were no rule books, no statutes and no higher power, other than the fuzzy morality of contemporary mores. The State allocated to itself the prerogative over life and death, and the absolute right of decision-making for individuals.

Does that not sound familiar? Is this not a precursor to the direction in which society is degenerating? We now have euthanasia on demand. How long before we decline further into society enforcing the so-called mercy killing of individuals with disabilities?

Judaism has nothing to be ashamed of and no need to cower in the face of this new morality. We come from a tradition that values life and sees the value in every life. We proudly assert our beliefs and creeds and commit to shining the bright light of G‑dliness into the dark corners of a decaying society.

We love people and believe in G‑d. We are guided by a Higher Power and live lives of passion and purpose. Even when society judges us unkindly, we will not bow or break, and we look forward to a time when all those who were taken from us will be restored and redeemed by our righteous Messiah.

Dedicated to the memory of Alta bat Avraham.