Jewish Guide to Practical Medical Decision Making

Review by Daniel D. Stuhlman • AJL Reviews

Medical Decisions web 1

Major technological advances in medical treatment raise many ethical and halakhic (Jewish law) issues concerning end of life and reproductive medical situations. Even though the Halakha has precedents in the Talmud and in the subsequent codes and responsa, one must keep current in the medical, psychological, and halakhic domains to be able to make decisions. For example, one congregational rabbi was consulted about removing life-support from a dying patient. The rabbi said that he would follow the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who said that when the oxygen tank is changed, if the patient is able to breathe on his own, we can decline to connect a new tank. The author told the rabbi that hospitals supply oxygen from wall connections and have not used tanks for many decades.

The author reminds us that the role of the chaplain is to explain and console, not dictate final decisions. He gives an example where some patients and their visitors do not understand the role of the chaplain. When he introduced himself as the chaplain the family members said, “We are proud Jews and you won’t be able to convert us.” When he explains that he is Jewish and a rabbi they respond, “Oh, I thought they only have chaplains here.”

This book can be read on two levels. For the general audience, one should read just the basic narrative of each chapter, which is written in a highly readable manner; for chaplains, medical personnel, rabbis, and scholars, the notes at the end of each chapter include the sources and a discussion of point of halakha or medicine. True to the role of the chaplain, the author presents many sides to each issue. The final decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. The book is highly recommended for academic, synagogue, and personal collections.

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