Revisiting the problem of Jewish bioethics: the case of terminal care

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2003 Jun;13(2):141-68. doi: 10.1353/ken.2003.0008.


This paper examines the main Jewish sources relevant to end-of-life ethics, two Talmudic stories, the early modern code of law (Shulhan Aruch), and contemporary Halakhaic (religious law) responsa. Some Orthodox rabbis object to the use of artificial life support that prolongs the life of a dying patient and permit its active discontinuation when the patient is suffering. Other rabbis believe that every medical measure must be taken in order to prolong life. The context of the discussion is the most recent release of the "Steinberg Report," which proposes a law regulating end-of-life issues in Israel. It is argued that the Orthodox rabbis base their views on a strongly positivist concept of religious law. The rabbis deliberate the law as a manifestation of the will of God and try to stretch the law as much as possible in order to benefit the patient, even when it is good for the patient to die. Direct and active actions that kill are prohibited; certain forms of passive euthanasia and contrivances that terminate life support without needing direct human action are accepted.

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees
  • Euthanasia, Passive / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Judaism*
  • Jurisprudence
  • Life Support Care
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Terminal Care*
  • Theology
  • Value of Life
  • Withholding Treatment / ethics