Jewish medical ethics and end-of-life care

J Palliat Med. 2004 Aug;7(4):558-73. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2004.7.558.


While Judaism espouses the infinite value of human life, Judaism recognizes that all life is finite and, as such, its teachings are compatible with the principles of palliative medicine and end-of-life care as they are currently practiced. Jewish medical ethics as derived from Jewish law, has definitions for the four cardinal values of secular medical ethics: autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice, with the major difference between Jewish law and secular medical ethics being that orthodox or traditional Jews are perceived to limit their autonomy by choosing, with the assistance and advice of their rabbis, to follow God's law as defined by the Bible and post-Biblical sources. With an understanding of Jewish medical ethics as defined by Jewish law, various issues pertaining to the care of Jewish patients who are near the end-of-life can be better understood. Jewish tradition contains within its textual sources the concept of terminal illness. The shortening of life through suicide, assisted suicide, or euthanasia is categorically forbidden. For patients who are terminally ill, treatments that are not potentially curative may be refused, especially when harm may result. Under certain circumstances, treatments may be withheld, but active treatment already started may not usually be withdrawn. While patients should generally not be lied to regarding their conditions, withholding information or even providing false information may be appropriate when it is felt that the truth will cause significant harm. Pain and suffering must be treated aggressively, even if there is an indirect risk of unintentionally shortening life. Finally, patients may execute advance directives, providing that the patient's rabbi is involved in the process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Jews*
  • Judaism*
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Terminal Care / ethics*