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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Rabbinical Conversation: Terry Schiavo & Living Wills

Last night, instead of a normal sermon, our temple had a rabbinical and congregational conversation about the issues surrounding the Terrry Schiavo case. We avoided talking the specifics on this one case, but talked about how the jewish tradition can help jews who might face these questions in their own life.

Here are some of the points of conversation that Rabbi Zedek and Rabbi Schaalman made.

1. The Sages and Rabbis of the era of the Talmud could never have imagined the medical advances we face. So what we can do is look at the spirit of the laws and try to apply them to our current situation.

2. Jews are addicted to life. Our story begins with Creation, begins with life, is about life. Christianity begins with a death and is about where you go when you die. A rhetorical question asked by a congregant was “If Christianity is all about getting to heaven, why do people want to delay her from going to heaven?”

3. We learned about the term “goseis.” I might have spelled it wrong, but it is poorly translated to mean: a person on the final stretch towards death. A person on the path to death. Not in the “we all die some day” thing, but in their final days or hours. If someone is goseis, it is not allowed to intervene to stop death. Death is a part of life. There is a story of a great rabbi who was goseis. His students did not want him to die, so they circled his bed and prayed for him to live. He was not able to die during this intervention. His servant, a gentile woman who had worked with him for years and years, realized the intervention was stopping him and dropped a vase. The distraction stopped the students from praying and the rabbi was able to die. She is PRAISED in jewish tradition for helping this man pass.

4. Which relationship is more important? The Husband or the Parents. This was one area that had a clear answer. The husband’s decision is stronger and more valid than the parents. When you marry, you are an adult and you leave your parents. Therefore, it is your spouses legal decisions that are also legal is the jewish tradition.

5. Once a person has intervened medically, it is unethical to withdraw the medicine. Perhaps when Terry Schaivo (this is me writing now, nothing my rabbi said last night) heart first stopped, what was unethical was intervening and stopping her death. After they stopped her death, withdrawing medicine is now unethical. Is food the same as medicin? Can nutrition be removed?

This were the big items we talked about. Then different people gave examples of times that living wills worked and how important it is to talk to your family, your rabbi, and your lawyer about what you want. Get it in writing and talk about it before you are sick. We didn’t debate the Schaivo case, but the issues it raises for us as jews.

A couple other points the rabbis made as the left the microphones.

1. All this energy on one life? What if 1% of the prayer, energy, and focus of keep her alive went to feed Chicago’s homeless?

2. She is being kept alive on Medicaid. The Religious Right, who want her kept alive, are the same people who are slashing Medicaid.

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