The "physician-assisted suicide" bill, which was approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs has been met with fierce criticism in the rabbinical world.
Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau slammed the bill, saying that a doctor is permitted to ease a patient's suffering, but not to put a patient to death. The Hotam rabbinical forum wrote that the proposed law would "aid suicide."
"A doctor is given the job of healing, and when he is incapable of healing – he has no permission to put to death," the chief rabbi ruled. "He may provide painkillers even if they bring the time of death closer, but he is not permitted to put a patient to death."
The Tzohar rabbis' organization released a halachic opinion denouncing the bill. The organization's chairman, Rabbi David Stav, said that "there aren't many issues on which there is one halachic, unequivocal stand which is accepted by all the religious authorities of our generation, like the absolute objection to helping a person end his life in a way similar to the one suggested in this law."
'Bill violates value of sanctity of life'
The Tzohar rabbis presented a series of halachic and ethical aspects of the issue. "The prohibition to commit suicide is a serious prohibition, similar to the prohibition to murder another person," the document said, clarifying that the same rule applies to both a healthy person and a dying person, and that there is no distinction between a "gentle" action like taking a pill and a violent action, which "are both as serious."
"This bill violates the value of the sanctity of life as a supreme value," warned Rabbi Stav. "Creating a measure for the value of life may pave the way for the creation of other measures."
He further wrote that "this bill could lead to suicides in different situations of distress. We fear that the family members or medical staff will exert concealed or open pressure on terminally ill patients, who will choose a "respectable" death in order to make things easier for those staying alive.
"From time immemorial, the doctor's job has been defined as saving lives and improving their length and quality," the rabbi added. "Giving physicians the right to prescribe a life-ending prescription changes the image of doctors in their own eyes and in the eyes of society, and could have a far-reaching impact on the role of doctors and the trust in them."
'Moral deterioration in a slippery slope'
The Hotam forum, which incorporates a number of rabbinical institutes, condemned the bill as well. A statement issued by the organization, headed by Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of the city of Ramat Gan and one of the leaders of the Religious Zionism movement, warned that with such a law, "killing a person will turn into a desirable norm."
In a position paper released ahead of the Ministerial Committee's discussion, the Hotam forum wrote that "this is a law which could pose a great danger to the public, and so the Knesset members must prevent a situation of moral deterioration on an infinite, slippery slope.
"From a halachic point of view, this is a sensitive and complicated issue, which is discussed with the appropriate caution by religious authorities," the rabbis said, calling for a discussion of the ethical meaning of the proposal, in light of what they defined as "the danger which may be inflicted on the public following this bill."
Forum member Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, an expert on medicine and Halacha and director of the Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halachic Research in Jerusalem, added: "If we accept the premise that a person's life is open for discussion on whether it is worthwhile or not, the right to life will no longer be a clear convention, and this will create an allegedly legitimate debate on where a person's life can be ended."
According to the rabbi, if we fail to insist on the sanctity of life, the boundaries will forever be moved further and further. "The law will eventually lead to ending the lives of people who 'are not suitable for us.' Every doctor will take the law into his own hands, and killing a person will become a desirable norm," he said.
The Hotam forum further argues that in countries which adopted a similar law, it is common for physicians to "take the law into their own hands and increasingly ease the killing criterion."
The rabbis concluded that "a doctor is given the possibility of healing patients, but he is definitely not given permission to shorten their lives." They called n the Knesset members to "stop this moral deterioration before it's too late."
'Killing government's Jewish identity'
Members of the United Torah Judaism faction expressed their rage over what they defined as "losing one's way completely." Knesset Member Yakov Litzman, a former deputy health minister, said that "the State of Israel has turned murder into a legal and acceptable procedure."
According to Litzman, "The government has lost its values by approving a violation of the sanctity of life, which has been a supreme value for the Jewish people in all generations."
MK Yakov Asher slammed the bill as well, saying that "it's time to assist the suicide of this bad government. The Israeli government crossed another line today and is continuing its war against the Jewish people's holiest values."
MK Uri Maklev expressed his shock over the proposed law, saying that "the Israeli government in its current make-up has shed any ethical characteristics, and the approval of this bill is a loss of the basic Jewish identity. The government is verifying the death of its Jewish identity. It is damaging every good spot of Judaism, starting with Torah studies through the most basic things, like the sanctity of life."
The 'Physician-assisted-suicide' bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, allows a dying patient to receive, upon request, a prescription for a lethal dose of a sedative, while exempting doctors from criminal liability.
The bill, which passed by a majority of eight to two, recognizes 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."