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Reform Positions On...
Reform positions on patient rights, prolonging life, quality of life, euthanasia and organ donation.

Patient Rights

  • "Each individual has the ethical, moral, and legal right to make his or her own health care decisions, and such right survives incompetency." (URJ Biennial resolution, 1991)
  • "Doctors are sometimes so intent on treating our disease that they may lose sight of where their efforts ought to stop. We must not only make our wishes known--we must insist that they be honored."(Dr. Harvey Gordon, Q&A about Jewish Tradition and the Issues of Assisted Death, 1998)

Prolonging Life

  • "There comes a point in time when all the technologies, the chemicals, the surgeries, and the machines which comprise the lifesaving arsenal of modern medicine become counterproductive, a point when all that medical science can effectively do for a patient is to indefinitely delay his inevitable death. This is not pikuach nefesh; this is not medicine; this is not what physicians, as agents of healing, are supposed to do. Yes, life is a precious thing, and every moment of it should be regarded as God's gift. But we are not required, under any reading of the tradition that makes sense to us, to buy additional moments of life by undertaking useless and pointless medical treatment." (CCAR Responsum, 1994)
  • "We should make a distinction between the frail elderly and a goses (a dying individual). Nothing needs to be done for someone who is clearly and obviously dying and whose death is close. At that stage we may not remove life support systems, but we also need not institute any procedures. There is a long tradition for allowing individuals not only a return to health but also a peaceful death. Under normal circumstance CPR should be given to the frail elderly if it can prolong their life. It should not be given to a goses." (CCAR Responsum, 1989)

Quality of Life

  • "We should do our best to enhance the quality of life and to use whatever means modern science has placed at our disposal for this purpose. We need not invoke 'heroic' measures to prolong life, nor should we hesitate to alleviate pain, but we cannot also utilize a 'low quality' of life as an excuse for hastening death." (CCAR Responsum, 1985)
  • "Pain and suffering are part and parcel of the human condition. The choice we face when we are ill is essentially the same choice we confront at every other moment of our lives: to determine what we, human beings in covenant with God, propose to do with the time and the strength available to us on this earth....Judaism, for its part, bids us to respond to the challenges of life by choosing life, to praise God whether that life brings us joy or sorrow. Even in debilitating illness...we yet sanctify the Divine striving toward nobility of conduct and of purpose, by confronting our suffering with courage. To say this is not to ignore the agony of the dying, but to recognize a fundamental truth: that even when we are dying, we have the power to choose how we shall live." (CCAR Responsum, 1994)
  • "It is virtually impossible to assess such matters as 'the quality of life,' and so Judaism has refrained from doing so. What might seem a very poor quality of life for some may be acceptable to others. For these reasons and the general respect [we have] for life we have made no judgments on 'quality of life' and would not consider that as a factor in instituting CPR or any other medical measures." (CCAR Responsum, 1989)


  • "Euthanasia is a Greek word meaning a 'good death.' Often a distinction is drawn between passive and active euthanasia. Passive euthanasia [is] when the doctor's action--or lack of action--allows the unopposed disease to progress more rapidly until death. In passive euthanasia, the physician withholds or withdraws treatment [and] the patient is killed by the disease; [with] active euthanasia, when the physician gives a lethal injection, the patient is killed by the physician. Generally speaking, Reform Judaism permits passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia violates Jewish law. The rabbis make no exception for taking the life of a person in the last stages of dying; it is the same shedding of innocent blood as murder." (Dr. Harvey Gordon, "Q&A about Jewish Tradition and Issues of Assisted Death," 1998)
  • "It is preferable that artificial feeding of terminal patients be maintained so that, when death comes, it will not have come because we have caused it by starvation. Nonetheless, because we cannot declare that cessation of artificial nutrition and hydration is categorically forbidden by Jewish moral thought, the patient and the family must ultimately let their conscience guide them in the choice between these two alternatives." (CCAR Responsum, 1994)
  • "Most of the tragic choices to end life can be avoided through the combined efforts of caring doctors, clergy, providers, family, and community." (URJ Biennial resolution, 1995)
  • "It is an awesome and awful responsibility we take upon ourselves when we determine to kill a human being, even when our intentions are good and merciful. Such an action is the ultimate arrogance, for it declares that we are masters over the one thing--life itself--that our faith has always taught must be protected against our all-too-human tendency to manipulate, to mutilate, and to destroy." (CCAR Responsum, 1994)
  • "Is it permissible to increase medication in order to relieve excruciating pain and suffering, even though this increased dosage may hasten the person's death? If it is our intent to relieve the pain and suffering of a dying person, then the answer is 'yes.' If it is our intent to end a life, to 'put this person out of his or her misery,' then the answer is a resounding 'no.' "(A Time To Prepare, Revised Edition, 2002)

Organ Donation

  • "There still exists within our Jewish community perceptions that Judaism does not embrace the concept of organ donation and transplantation. In fact, the denominations are together in affirming the need for our participation in what is really a modern mitzvah rooted in the value of saving a life (pikuach nefesh)." (URJ Bio-Ethics Program Guide #9, "Organ Donation," 1997)


Union for Reform Judaism.