Here is an issue that should concern all of us: in case of a terminal illness, who should have the power to decide when life should end: the doctor or the family? A case in Canada is raising this question all over again. Here is a summary of the case as reported by Jonathan Rosenblum in the Jewish World Review:
A Winnipeg case currently winding its way to its grim conclusion pits the children of Samuel Golubchuk against doctors at the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital. According to the leadings, Golubchuk's doctors informed his children that their 84-year-old father is "in the process of dying" and that they intended to hasten the process by removing his ventilation, and if that proved insufficient to kill him quickly, to also remove his feeding tube. In the event that the patient showed discomfort during these procedures, the chief of the hospital's ICU unit stated in his affidavit that he would administer morphine.
Golubchuk is an Orthodox Jew, as are his children. The latter have adamantly opposed his removal from the ventilator and feeding tube, on the grounds that Jewish law expressly forbids any action designed to shorten life, and that if their father could express his wishes, he would oppose the doctors acting to deliberately terminate his life.
In response, the director of the ICU informed Golubchuk's children that neither their father's wishes nor their own are relevant, and he would do whatever he decided was appropriate. Bill Olson, counsel for the ICU director, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that physicians have the sole right to make decisions about treatment — even if it goes against a patient's religious beliefs — and that "there is no right to a continuation of treatment."
This story is alarming because the position taken by the hospital gives doctors total power to make the decision to withdraw life-support from a patient. The position taken by the hospital also removes from patients the ability to make end-of-life decisions. In cases like this one, what will happen to living wills, the power given to individuals to declare in writing who should make the decision to terminate life in the event of a person’s incapacity to make such a decision?
I agree with Rosenblum when he said that to give doctors absolute power to decide when to terminate life is "an assault on the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of the sanctity of life." Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and each life is precious and important. Doctors should not be the only ones to decide when life should be terminated. The patient and their families should have a say in the matter.