2008 | The Sanctity of Life: A Jewish Approach to End of Life Challenges

On Sunday, September 14th, the Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society will be hosting its third annual conference entitled “The Sanctity of Life: A Jewish Approach to End-of-Life Challenges.” With expert speakers representing the medical and rabbinical professions, the conference will address the wide range of medical, ethical, psychosocial and halachic (Jewish legal) issues that arise at the end of life. The opening plenary session of the day will begin with a general introduction to the medical background and ethical issues that are pertinent to adult terminal illness. Presented by leading physicians, ethicists, and rabbinic authorities with extensive experience, this session will explore how medicine and halacha interact in the modern hospital setting, and will highlight some of the most pressing issues that have come up in recent cases. This session will help the participant pinpoint which area of focus he or she would like to explore in more depth. Participants will then be able to choose from a variety of specialized tracks, each providing an in-depth analysis of one of the many pressing issues in the field. Examples of various tracks to be offered include: hospice care and pain management, proxy decision-making, do-not-resuscitate orders, and the sanctity of life. At these sessions, the session leader will address specific questions that members of the audience may have. The final plenary session will address the issue of pediatric end-of-life care. This session will focus on decision-making for the pediatric patient, as well as issues relevant to family and friends of children facing serious illness. The conference will provide a unique opportunity to interact with rabbis and physicians who are leaders in this area of medical ethics. By enriching our education, raising our awareness, and deepening our sensitivities, the YU Student Medical Ethics Society hopes to promote continued discussion, thus enhancing the community’s ability to deal with these issues in an effective manner that holds true to the highest moral standard. Pre-registration is required and will be open to all those who have an interest in learning more about the ethics of end-of-life care. Students, teachers, rabbis, physicians, and laymen are welcome.

Session Descriptions

Plenary I: Moments That Matter: Adult End-of-Life Challenges

Beth Popp M.D. , Tia Powell M.D. , Rabbi Moshe Tendler Ph.D.

Moderators: Rabbi Dr. Richard WeissThis session will focus on various aspects of the medical, ethical and Halachic approaches in treating and caring for the terminally ill patient.

Plenary II: Who Decides and What to Say: Pediatric End-of-Life Challenges

Rabbi Kenneth Brander , Alexander Okun M.D. , Rabbi Simcha Scholar , Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Moderators: Dr. David PelcovitzThis session will focus on the tragic but unfortunately pertinent issue of the terminally ill pediatric patient. The session will begin with a focus on the unique medical and Halachic questions that arise and will then shift to a psychosocial discussion between speakers who will be sharing from personal experience with this challenging issue.

Breakout Sessions

Breakout 1: What Every Jew Needs to Know: Health Care Proxy and Do Not Resuscitate Orders

Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz

This session, to be delivered by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, will focus on the legal and Halachic aspects of appointing control over all decisions from a patient to a loved one should the patient be no longer able to make those.

Breakout 2: Assisted Suicide and The Vale of life

Rabbi Howard Apfel M.D.

This session, to be delivered by Rabbi Dr. Howard Apfel, will focus on this issue of euthanasia and how this relates to the halachic requirement to preserve life.

Breakout 3: Holding on or Letting Go: Aggressive Treatment or Hospice Care? Making End-Of-Life Medical Decisions

Rabbi Zev Schostak

This breakout session, delivered by Rabbi Zev Schostak, will address one major issue: If, in Jewish tradition, every second of life is infinitely precious and sacred, would Halacha allow terminally ill patients to refuse life-sustaining treatments such as ventilators, feeding tubes, and kidney dialysis? Must these patients always seek aggressive treatment or is hospice care ever appropriate? By seeking aggressive treatment, are they prolonging life or extending the dying process?

Breakout 4: Organ Donation: A brief Update

Stuart Greenstein M.D.

This session, to be delivered by Dr. Stuart Greenstein, will focus on the recent developments that have occurred in the realm of organ donation since it was first presented by the Student Medical Ethics Society two years ago at the first annual conference

Breakout 5: What to Answer? A Rabbis Guide to End-of-Life Challenges

Rabbi Mordechai Willig

This special session for rabbis, to be delivered by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, will give practical Psak Halacha for rabbis faced with community members that need to make decisions in the care and treatment of loved ones. This session will also focus on the unique role that rabbis play in comforting family members and how they can help those faced with this situation. This session will only be open to Rabbis and Smicha Students.

Breakout 6: Case Study: The Story of Samuel Golubchuk

Leon Zacharowicz M.D.

This session will use the landmark Golubchuk case, called the Terri Schiavo case of Canada, as a springboard for a discussion of developments in end of life care, including events in the United States, Holland, and Israel, and their implications for future medical professionals and orthodox lay people. Actual cases of end of life dilemmas and the battles ‘behind the scenes’ will be discussed. The very recent controversy over the ‘timer’ ventilator being developed in Israel will also be mentioned. The session will grant participants a perspective on halacha and the “politics” of activism in halachically sensitive topics.