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February 12, 1993 - Image 20

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-02-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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SUICIDE page 1

Jewish law does not condone
actively terminating a human
life, he said.
Dr. Friedman deals with
many terminal patients, but
none has requested a "medi-
cide," or assisted suicide.
Under no conditions, Dr.
Friedman said, would he en-
courage a patient to commit
suicide or concede to an as-
sisted suicide. Countering ar-
guments about death-with-
dignity, Dr. Friedman says
many terminally ill patients
are depressed and need psy-
chiatric help.
Gerald Schiener, a psychi-
atrist with Sinai Hospital in
Detroit, acknowledges that
emotional pain often drives
terminally ill people to con-
sider suicide. The psychiatrist
says, however, that these peo-
ple are not necessarily men-
tally ill.
"If a patient's thinking is
logical and not colored by
hopelessness, then it's not
likely that (a desire to commit
suicide) is caused by mental
illness," said Dr. Schiener.
"I don't have a problem
with suicide or assisted sui-
cide," Dr. Schiener said. "If
someone wanted to end his
own life, and that person was
not psychiatrically ill, I
wouldn't stand in the way."
Unlike Dr. Friedman, Dr.
Schiener, who is a Con-
servative Jew, believes Juda-
ism affords the afflicted some
moral leeway. Although he
would not participate in an
assisted suicide, he said the
decision should be made by
the individual who is termi-
nally ill, so long as he is ra-
tional.
Dr. Robert M. Starr, a gen-
eral practitioner who works
in Detroit, disagrees. Like Dr.
Friedman, he argues that sui-
cide and medicide conflict
with Halachah.
"Our Torah teaches us that
life is precious and belongs to
God and we don't have the
right to end a life," Dr. Starr
said. "I didn't give life. I can't
take it away."
But who's playing God?
asked Michael A. Schwartz,
one of Dr. Kevorkian's attor-
neys. Mr. Schwartz said it's
relatively easy for healthy in-
dividuals to choose life. They
do not have to endure the ex-
crutiating pain experienced
by people like Mrs. Gold-
baum, he said.
Mr. Schwartz denounced
clergy and politicians in the
Michigan legislature who sup-

port the impending April
ban on assisted suicide.
`The bottom line of all ti-*
is people have to decide fo
themselves," he said. "Whe
you're sitting in the situati
where you're suffering, yo
know better than anyone els
how much you can endur
Rabbis can say what the
will. It's real easy to comfo
yourself with all these reli
gious principles."
Mr. Schwartz went on
say that he believes Judais
is not "dogmatic" about
issue.
"It seems to me tha
Judaism, above all, stands f
compassion," he said. "Juda
ism dictates that when the
solute letter of the law com
up against suffering, excep-
tion to the law will be mad
in order to prevent further
pain and suffering."
The Hospice of South-
eastern Michigan is setting

.

Assisted suicide
sparks Jewish
debate.

up a program focusing on care
for terminally ill Jewish pa-
tients.
"Whether (assisted suicide)
is a better alternative is some-
thing each person decides for
himself," said Lois Arm-
vice president of the
Hospice. "Assisted suicide is
not a service we provide at all.
Our experience is that peo-
ple, if given enough support,
would like to live."
David Techner, funeral di-
rector at Ira Kaufman
Chapel, serves as chair of the
Jewish Hospice Task Force.
The philosophy of hospice, he
says, is to mitigate the pain of
a terminally ill patient to help
the individual enjoy the last
days of his life.
Hospice advocates using
pain killers, but not neces-
sarily continuing ineffective
or temporary treatments for
those who will die soon any-
way.
"Sometimes (discontinuing
treatment) might hasten
death, but it's not like taking
something that will cause
death," Mr. Techner said.
Mr. Techner and Mrs.
Armstrong stressed that they
do not stand in judgement of
Mrs. Goldbaum.
In a letter to Dr. Kevorldan,
Mrs. Goldbaum revealed that
she had nothing "to look for-

SUICIDE page 22

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