Today medical technology can virtually keep one organ alive while the rest of the body shuts down. In addition to praying, what instruction should we give when assigning healthcare proxy for a healthcare agent who will speak for us in the event we are, to take an extreme case, being given artificial nutrition, artificial hydration, on a respirator or maybe even braindead. What’s the Jewish view?
Now I cannot speak for the chachmei haTorah. Let them tell you.
But I’ll speak for myself and I shall say that whatever was done for our forefathers should be done for us too. Anything additional is not necessary. But to do everything necessary that our forefathers did, that should be done, by all means.
And if feeding and giving oxygen and other means are feasible, by all means you should continue.
Now, more than that I’m not going to say. We have poskim, gedolei Yisroel; let them decide what to do. But the minimum should always be done, and never should a person despair. There have been cases, very few, where people who were like entirely braindead and they recovered part of their capabilities.
A person who regains a little consciousness for a little while and he can say a few words – “Ribono shel Olam, heal me. And if it is decided that I have to pass away תהא מיתתי כפרה על כל חטאתי” – then it was worth that effort of keeping him alive for a long time. Even that brief moment of consciousness is such a tremendous achievement.
So therefore, we cannot easily abandon the efforts to maintain a person’s life even though it seems for the moment that there is no achievement in the efforts.
TAPE # 962 (June 1994)