Medical Aid in Dying: A Jewish Perspective

Medical Aid in Dying: A Jewish Perspective

In our American world of advancing technology and individual self-determination, we have, in many ways, unprecedented choice over how we want to live. But should we be able to choose how we die?

What is commonly referred to as assisted suicide for terminally ill people (now sometimes called medical aid in dying) is a thorny moral and ethical subject. In 1997, it was not legal under any condition in any state of the union to end one’s own life in a medically supervised setting. By 2020, however, it was legal in some form in eight U.S. states and in the District of Columbia, as well as in Canada and a number of European countries. However, governments, with their sometimes parsimonious motives, must take exceptional care with what they legalize, as permissiveness for one patient can create a slippery cascade – for other patients and their friends and family, for people in the disability community, and yes, for medical insurance companies.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., is the Rector and Sol & Anne Dorff Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy at the American Jewish University.  He brings over five decades of experience to his roles. He has taught at American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism) since 1971, directing its rabbinic program between 1971-1994, serving as Chief Academic Officer between 1980 and 1985, and as Rector since 1994.  He was also a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law from 1974 to 2020. He has written 15 books and edited or co-edited 14 more on Jewish thought, law, and ethics as well as over 200 articles on those topics.  He received his rabbinic ordination by the Jewish Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University.
(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. “Medical Aid in Dying [M.A.I.D]” was a panel and moderated discussion held at Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, MN on May 5, 2024. Additional perspectives from the worlds of secular philosophy and U.S. public policy will follow in part 2.)
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