Lawmakers clash over euthanasia bill

Legislation would allow doctors to facilitate assisted suicide for terminal patients without criminal repercussions

A patient in the hallway of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
A patient in the hallway of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

A day after Israeli ministers gave the go-ahead to a bill regulating assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, the country’s minister for senior citizens appealed the decision, saying he would work to “save the legal system from this pill of death.”

Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach (Jewish Home) submitted an appeal Monday to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation against the euthanasia bill approved Sunday by MKs Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Zahava Gal-on (Meretz).

The bill, passed Sunday by a majority vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, states that a patient defined as “terminal” could be granted a prescription for a lethal dose of anesthetics, and the prescribing doctor could not be held criminally responsible.

The law would grant the patient a degree of choice and control over his life at the point at which the pain and suffering has become unbearable, according to Shelah.

Religious lawmakers have said they would oppose the measure and the legislation is expected to face an uphill climb toward Knesset approval.

Writing on Facebook, Orbach said the bill commodified death.

“Death is becoming a commodity or service granted to citizens. The poor doctors now have to supply death for terminally ill patients as well [as medical care]. This is a false liberalism which claims that everything is negotiable as long as it is the free will of the customer. Any other value: social, religious, legal is rejected in the face of the individual’s choice,” he wrote

“My heart goes out to the terminally ill, but this is also a discussion about what is should be allowed within the legal statutes, what is the role of doctors and family, and whether ‘individual rights’ are the only determining factor in the eyes of the law.”

In 2005, Israel passed legislation allowing doctors to practice passive euthanasia by stopping lifesaving measures, after years of negotiations with religious and medical officials.

The current bill’s approval sparked a wave of reactions from politicians and religious leaders Sunday night.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau expressed his opposition, saying that “a doctor can be a healer, but when he is unable to heal he does not have the authority to kill. He may give pain medication, even in heavy doses, as death nears, but cannot kill.”

The Hotam forum, an umbrella group for religious research institutes and professionals, published a position paper stating, “This law poses a great danger to the public and therefore members of Knesset should feel obligated to prevent our continued moral decline.”

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