The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved Sunday a 'Physician-assisted-suicide' bill, which would allow a dying patient to receive, upon request, a prescription for a lethal dose of a sedative, while exempting doctors from criminal liability.
The bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, passed by a majority of eight to two.
"The 'Physician-assisted-suicide' bill recognized that the lives of patients suffering from incurable diseases can be preserved, with the help of artificial devices, beyond the natural boundary of those diseases," the explanatory notes to the bill said.
"This technical ability sentences the patients to constant pain, both physical and mental, while extending the process of dying without giving any hope. The bill respects the patient's right of control over his body and thus allows physicians to accept the terminally ill patient's wish not to artificially prolong his life."
"Thus, the bill allows the doctors to not connect, or disconnect such a patient from a respirator, only in the case that it has been determined that he indeed suffers from an incurable disease, that his days are numbered and that his request was given when he was of a sound mind."
"However, the bill does not apply to terminally ill patients whose lives are not dependant on 'artificial devices'. These patients are unable to exercise their human and civil right of an early and redeeming death, and are doomed to continue living their lives in agony, in the name of the law."
Bill does not permit assistance in suicide
"It is not surprising," the explanatory notes further stated, "that quite a few choose to end their life by suicide, carried out often in a brutal manner, and leaving a terrible scar in the hearts of family members. The bill does not prohibit a person who wants to commit suicide from doing so, but assistance in such an act, even on behalf of a family member, is considered a criminal offense."
"This reality has often led to desperate situation of a double death, in which the healthy spouse kills the unhealthy spouse in order to put them out of their misery, and afterwards commits suicide.
"This is a problem that society has to deal with," said bill author MK Shelah, "and the need increases as life expectancy grows and medical technology improves. The 'Death with Dignity Act', as the law is termed in the United States which already practices it, gives the patient a measure of control over his life in his final days, which could give him the strength he needs to cope with the pain.
"The law also facilitates the legal dilemma in which doctors find themselves, and positively affects the feelings of the families and their lives a day after parting with their loved ones. This is a progressive bill, which will position Israel in the front row of enlightened countries."
The American model
"I hope the bill now passes the legislative process," said Avinoam Reches, former head of the office for medical ethics at the Israel Medical Association "The 'Physician-assisted-suicide' bill answers the needs of patients whose lives are dependent on artificial devices, but what about those who breathe independently but suffer from an incurable form of a deadly disease? You cannot kill the person actively, and that's not on the State of Israel's public agenda.
"Ofer Shelah's proposed model is that of the State of Oregon, in which two doctors must confirm a diagnosis of terminal illness. The law requires that the patient request the prescription for a lethal dose of medicine three times within a two week-period gap between each request, he must be a local resident for at least five years, he must be of legal age, and only then will he be able to receive the prescription; he must also pick it up on his own."
"There are many similarities between Oregon and Israel, with 7 million people and some 20,000 doctors in both states. Most doctors don’t want to deal with it, and we are talking about some 100 doctors who merely give the prescription, and the number of people who use the prescription is not over 100. Not one of them does it out of economic necessities, but due to fear of a decline in the quality of their lives."
Reches adds that "We are a progressive society, and we need to give these people humane tools so that they don't have to commit suicide in a horrible manner. The matter at hand is a humane means to end one's life and a doctor who seeks to deal with such issues must have the proper tools to do so."
In 2013, 122 Oregon residents received the prescription, but only 71 of them used it.
Israel Medical Association objects
In contrast to Professor Reches, Israel Medical Association officials have opposed the bill. Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman argues that while "we feel empathy for the severe suffering of terminal patients and their families, but it is not the role of the doctor to end the life of a terminally ill patient in a way that isn't natural.
"We are not trained to do so and do not teach the next generation of the medical community to do so. Euthanasia and suicide assistance with the help of a doctor are unethical actions."
"Lilach", the Israel Society for the Right to Live and Die with Dignity, welcomed the decision: "The bill will, give terminally ill patients for the first time the decision to end their lives whenever they choose to do so, and not wait for death with suffering and anguish. Today, their only option is euthanasia in Switerzaland, which is very pricey and not an option for most patients.
"Contrary to claims that the proposal can be a slippery slope to suicide, the reality has proved the opposite. We call upon members of the Knesset to support the bill and allow patients to end their lives with dignity."
Yaron Kelner contributed to this report.