Mercy killing - Euthenasia

חלוצית pioneered נוירולוגים neurologists מַחֲלָה disease מְשׁוּתָק  paralyzed וֵשֶׁט esophagus כדי להבריש אותו to brush it off ריאות lungs תחילת המחלה onset of his illness מֵתוֹדוֹלוֹגִיָה methodology מְשׁוּפָּע voluminous התכתבות דוא"ל email correspondence רָגוּעַ serene קַבָּלָה acceptance פּרוֹפּוֹרצִיָה proportion התדרדר deteriorated עידוד וכוח encouragement and strength ציפיי Anticipating גאוני אמריקאי עשוי ingenious American-made תוֹדָעָה consciousness פוטנציאל שלא נוצל untapped potential טָבוּעַ  inherent להפוך ללהבה בוערת transform into a burning flame הרהורים על החיים musings about life חולים כרוניים chronically ill מחלה סופני terminal illness נכות חמורה serious disability ציפיות חברתיות societal expectations אנשים מפונקים people are spoiled אתגרים challenges בּוֹלְטוּת prominence הממסד הרפואי medical establishment להפחית את ההוצאות reduce expenditures לחיות בכבוד to live, and with dignity הפסקת אמצעים מקיימים חיים cessation of life-sustaining measures פומיתmouthpiece כפוף subjected  ללחצים עצומים to tremendous pressure חברה נאורה enlightened society השלכות ramifications חולה סופני terminally ill קדושת חיי האדם sanctity of human life מְנוּת disconnected שידור חי live broadcast אמביוולנטי ambivalent בגן עדן in Heaven  היהדות מתארתJudaism extols תלות הדדיתInterdependence הֲדָדִיmutual מטפליםcaregivers טינה של מילוי חובה grudging fulfillment of duty מֵבִּישׁ. shameful קטע צורב searing segment דיון Debating השלכות proponent

Killing Mercy or Mercy Killing

At the age of 57, he had everything going for him. He was handsome, athletic, happily married, the father of six children, and successful in his career. Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen, with a Ph.D. in Special Education, held a leading position in Israel's Ministry of Education, served as Head of the Education Dept. in a Jerusalem college, and pioneered Special Education programs throughout Israel.

Then one day, he felt a weakness in his left shoulder. Soon the weakness spread down his arm to his fingers. When he made Kiddush on Shabbat night, the Kiddush cup shook and the wine spilled. He and his wife Elisheva made the rounds of neurologists, until one doctor gave them the dread diagnosis: ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

"You have three to five years to live," the doctor said. That was 12 years ago.

The doctor spelled out for them the entire course of the disease: first his limbs would become paralyzed, to be followed by the muscles of his neck, esophagus, and tongue. "The day will come," he told Rahamim, "when a fly will land on your nose and you won't be able to brush it off. You will become dependent on other people for everything." And in the final stage, his lungs would stop working. "You have three to five years to live."

That was 12 years ago. Three of the doctors who attended on him have since died, but Rahamim Melamed-Cohen, while completely paralyzed, is still going strong. Since the onset of his illness, he has written seven books, the latest by means of a computer that types by his eye movements. Until a year ago, when he could still speak clearly, he gave lectures on educational methodology to students in his living room. He maintains a voluminous email correspondence with readers who look to him for encouragement and wisdom. He prays thrice daily and attends synagogue every Shabbat. And he and his wife go out regularly, to the theater, to weddings, and to restaurants, although Rahamim himself no longer eats except through a feeding tube to his stomach. As Elisheva explains, "Although he doesn't eat, he sits with us." His company is obviously worth the effort.

Rahamim didn't get to his present state of serene acceptance immediately. In spite of him being religious , when he first heard the diagnosis, he had many questions for God: "Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? All my life I tried to do good, to fulfill mitzvot, and to act properly toward my fellowman. Maybe here and there, I wasn't okay, but where is the proportion between this terrible illness and my small sins?"

Interestingly enough, as his physical condition has deteriorated, his faith has grown stronger. He notices in himself the spiritual growth spawned by his illness: "I think I understand better than most people how to appreciate the important things in life, and to ignore those things that aren't important."Moreover, he now discerns a higher purpose to his suffering: "I feel that I have a task: to give to other people encouragement and strength."

From the beginning, Rahamim decided to stay one step ahead of the disease. Anticipating the paralysis of his legs, he installed an elevator to carry him up to his second-floor apartment. When one hand was still good enough to press the buttons on his special wheelchair, he had a control mechanism installed on the back of the wheelchair for the stage when he would not be able to drive it himself. While he could still speak clearly, he researched and located the ingenious American-made computer that is now his principal means of communication.

Yet, with all his preparations, he did not prepare for the inevitable moment that strikes all ALS sufferers: the final moment when the paralysis creeps into the lungs. One day, six and a half years ago, Elisheva heard her husband straining to breathe. She called an ambulance. The medics arrived at the same moment that Rahamim's breathing stopped. They resuscitated him and rushed him to the hospital. There Elisheva made the decision to hook her husband up to a respirator rather than let him die.

"Everything would have been different in one minute," Elisheva recalls, "if I hadn't called the ambulance. And there was a doctor in the emergency room who said to me, 'Why did you resuscitate him?' This was very terrible to hear."

"If they had let me die, I would have missed the best and most important years of my life."

When he regained consciousness, Rahamim himself was not sure that being kept alive by a respirator was the best decision. Now, however, he asserts, "If they had let me die, I would have missed the best and most important years of my life."

His daily struggle with survival has taught him a vital lesson about the vast, untapped potential inherent in every person. "Before, I didn't believe that I have such inner strength. I learned that every human being has sparks that he can transform into a burning flame."

Although he had written articles and lectured extensively before his illness, this new phase of his life has opened up wellsprings of creativity. Since the onset of his illness, he has written seven books: two about education; two on Jewish subjects; one book of personal anecdotes; one book of poetry; and Choose Life, a collection of his musings about life and advice to the chronically ill.

Dr. Melamed-Cohen believes that many other people suffering from a terminal illness or serious disability give up due to three reasons:

1.   They behave according to societal expectations.


  1. In our times, many people are spoiled.
  3. Today's education doesn't teach people to stand up to challenges.

Melamed-Cohen has gained a certain prominence in the Israeli media for his outspoken opposition to the euthanasia movement. "What is mercy-killing?" he asks. "For whom is the mercy? Is it for the person with an illness? Or is it for the family, so that they should not have to suffer? For the medical establishment, to reduce expenditures? For the insurance companies? Mercy means helping others to live, and with dignity. Helping people to cut their lives short cannot be called mercy."

And indeed, as he notes, the cessation of life-sustaining measures, "pulling the plug," is forbidden by Jewish law.

Over the last two years , he has been fighting with senior medical officials and journalists who advocate euthanasia .He has been a mouthpiece for all those people who want to go on living, but have been subjected to tremendous pressure by an 'enlightened society." Instead of devoting our efforts and resources to persuade people to die," he says " would be better to direct them toward improving the conditions of those for whom a cure has not yet been found."

4.The euthanasia movement threatens to redefine the very meaning, and sanctity, of human life.Melamed-Cohen points out that the ramifications of euthanasia advocacy go far beyond the realm of the "terminally ill." The euthanasia movement threatens to redefine the very meaning, and sanctity, of human life.

"Life today is becoming cheaper and cheaper," he observes. "Among young people it finds expression in drugs, violence and suicide. A [healthy] 16-year-old girl came to me and said, 'If it's okay to shorten the life of someone because of their suffering -- well, I'm also suffering, and I'd rather die than live.'"

A few weeks ago, another ALS sufferer in Israel decided to end his life. His family assented, and his request to be disconnected from his respirator was approved by the Israeli medical and legal authorities. When interviewed on Israel television, he described his suffering: "Speech is now difficult for me. I can't walk, eat or move. I've lost interest in life. My condition is irreversible, the pain will only increase, why should I drag it out?" Then, in his last moments, he added, "I hope that I am not making a mistake."

5.In his last moments, he added, "I hope that I am not making a mistake."Melamed-Cohen, who viewed the live broadcast from his home, commented, "It's clear to me that this man was ambivalent. On the one hand, he wanted a good place in Heaven; on the other hand, he wasn't sure that he was doing the right thing. I heard in his voice a great deal of hesitation and doubt. In my opinion, societal pressure...drove him to the decision that it would be better to die than live. Had he been taken care of at home, in a warm and supportive atmosphere, it could be that he would have felt differently."

Instead of "independence," Judaism extols "interdependence," the mutual dynamic of giving and receiving that truly makes life worth living. As Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe defined the purpose of life: "Life is for loving." The purpose of life is to forge loving relationships with God and with other people.

Rather than considering his present dependence on other people shameful, Dr. Melamed-Cohen regards their caring for him -- like his caring for them -- as a continuation of the loving relationships that he has cultivated throughout his life. One need only look at his former students-turned-caregivers to see that their service, rather than grudging fulfillment of duty, is a freely-flowing act of love. Such love is never shameful.

A searing segment of the film, "Heroes Against Their Will," shows Dr. Melamed-Cohen debating Dr. Noam Reches, the chairman of the Israel Medical Ethics Committee and a leading proponent of euthanasia, who himself has "pulled the plug" on request. Dr. Reches looks at the wheelchair-bound Dr. Melamed-Cohen, with the respirator tube connected to the tracheotomy in his neck, and says, "You can't feed yourself. You can't hug the people you love... If I were in your position, I'd want out."

Dr. Melamed-Cohen responds, "These are the most beautiful and happiest years of my life."

"Some other ALS patients when they were fully conscious asked to end their lives," Dr. Reches continues. "They didn't want to reach your situation of complete dependence on others."

Dr. Melamed-Cohen gazes at Dr. Reches and declares, "Believe me, my life is no less interesting than yours."

Though he may not be able to hug people, few people with two functional arms actually embrace others with as much love and caring as Rahamim Melamed-Cohen.

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       Killing Mercy - Rabbi Yisrael Rutman