August 17, 2019

Death Cafés & Freedom – Your Beliefs, My Rights

[Editor’s Note: This is the next blog entry that looks at topics in the realms of ‘Planned Dying’, Suicide, ‘Assisted Suicide’, Euthanasia, a ‘right to die’, gender and sexuality issues, and other topics that may be controversial, emotionally challenging, or spark disagreement. These entries look at these various subjects from different perspectives.
The thoughts and views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions (if any) of the Editor, Expired and Inspired, the Gamliel Institute, or Kavod v’Nichum.
If you have a worthwhile submission that you wish to offer for consideration to be published in Expired and Inspired, please be in touch with the Editor of this blog.
The Editor retains complete and final discretion as to what appears and when, and may reject, modify, or change entries submitted as the Editor sees fit.]

Few people are comfortable with the thought of death, and fewer even willing to talk about DEATH.  How can we talk about suicides, euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc….if we are NOT even comfortable with the topic of death in our own minds?

Not unlike the other issues tied to religion – Abortion and Blue Laws for example, those who profess NO religion, or who could put religion out of the mix, feel their rights are being undermined by the strong religious views of others. 

The subjects of death, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and end of life care, are often forbidden, cut short, off the table, or taboo, and are never discussed at cocktail parties.

WE, the people, have the right to vote in or vote out any bill or law that deals with DEATH – yet – there is little conversation. 

That is why I – amongst many others – run DEATH CAFES.

Death Cafes are merely opportunities for anyone –  random individuals – to gather in a non-threatening place, to share thoughts, concerns, fears, ideas, principles, etc. on this very taboo subject – DEATH. 

Compassion & Choices


Aid in Dying

Other legislation

IF we are to exercise our individual FREEDOMS – as in the freedom to make choices for ourselves – not based on what any religious group dictates – choice is fundamental. 

AS has been proven in a few states – when legislation is passed that allows the medical practice of aid in dying to be accessible for anyone who prefers a say in how they die – that is freedom of choice. 

When MY options are determined by YOUR religious belief…that is NOT freedom.

As you read this – your legislators are deciding YOUR death. How they vote on the various bills seeking to control our choices WILL determine YOUR future as well!!

I believe that anyone deciding how I should die is playing G-D.  When pneumonia is sent (perhaps by Hashem) to a very ill, dying person– what do we often do?  Give antibiotics. 

G-D, perhaps, takes away our ability to eat … and what do we often do?  Insert feeding tubes. 

When our heart is too weak and gives out … what do we often do? Administer CPR. 

Perhaps we interfere with G-D’s choices!! 

For some, perhaps many, we certainly are interfering with their choices.

Our rights and freedoms around end of life choices are being held hostage, often by the very people who won’t even discuss death. Legislators should represent us, and vote OUR conscience. I am hard pressed to understand why any one might believe that BEFORE someone is very ill they have a right to control their own care, but, suddenly, as they reach the end of life, these same people take the  position that you lose your right to control your care, and they will decide for you. 

Our end of life choices should be our own to exercise until we have taken that last breath.  Having a terminal illness doesn’t change your status as a citizen with rights. If your preference is to be guided by your religious principles, that is your choice. But if one’s personal choice is NOT based on religion forcing them to choose how to live or die – and particularly by religious views (that they may not or do not share) is UNamerican.

We who vote need to affirm freedom of choice. We must force our elected lawmakers to guarantee those rights for us.

Aid in dying is NOT a choice of death over life. It is an option for those who are dying that spares them unbearable suffering and offers a controlled and peaceful ending. All dying people deserve to maintain what should be their right – the option of choice about how they die. It is not a question of if they will die, because they are already dying.

While our individual opinions vary, I believe as Americans we should stand firm that religious views should NOT be part of the mix when it comes to legislation. These sort of views, which in past have ranged from YOU CAN’T SELL WINE ON SUNDAYS, to prohibition on legitimate and safe ABORTIONS, are religious, not legal decisions. And keeping religion out of law ensures everyone’s freedoms. If you don’t want to make beer purchases on Sunday, then simply … don’t buy it. If you don’t believe in abortion – don’t have one.  Want to suffer at the end of life?  Go for it!! But if YOU want to tell ME what I can and can’t do because YOUR religion says so – FORGET IT!

I was personally faced with end of life issues, and NOT HAVING CHOICE WAS INFURIATING!! 

Death with Dignity, Compassion and Choices, and other organizations that support policies and pursue freedom of choice in these areas are currently working to assure that bills restricting the option of choice will come up for a vote in all states.

There is no question that there are personal religious beliefs coloring the issue.  In no way do any of the bills assuring that there is choice trample on your rights to follow your religious convictions.  But NOT passing these bills trample on MY freedom FROM YOUR religion, and limit or eliminate MY choice of following my convictions. 

While End of life care is NOT something most people give much thought to or are even comfortable thinking about – how you choose to see your end of life should not determine how I see mine. 

“Too many patients don’t die in the manner they prefer. The time is now for our nation to develop a modernized end-of-life care system.”

– Institute of Medicine President Dr. Victor 

Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs, I am from Brooklyn, currently living in NJ.  Having originally learned about Taharah as a yeshiva student, I knew I would participate as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  I have participated in doing Taharah for almost 30 years.  I am currently the ROSHA of our chevrah.  When not doing Taharah, I taught school – up until I retired and went back to school and became a chaplain.  I held the Federation position of County (Mercer) Chaplain for 15 years.   My/Our 46th anniversary is in three weeks and our two children have blessed us with grandchildren.







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Winter 2016:  

During the coming Winter semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering the online course. Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah (T&S). This course will run at two times (if there is adequate registration): from January 5th to March 22nd, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST9-10:30 pm AST, and from January 11th to March 28th, Noon to 1:30 pm EST/9-10:30 am PST (12 sessions at each time). There will be an online orientation session Monday January 4th at 12-1:30 pm EST, and a second orientation session on Monday, January 4th at 8-9:30 pm EST (Students may attend either one). PLEASE NOTE: We will be using a new (to us) Platform for the classes, so definitely plan on attending one of the orientation sessions! 

For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website.

This course is an in-depth study of the work of the Chevrah Kadisha in the activities and mitzvot of guarding the body of the deceased (shmirah) and of ritually preparing the body for burial (taharah). This is very much a “how-to” course as well as an examination of the liturgy, and of the unusual situations that can arise. The course also looks at the impact of the work on the community and on the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, and provides an ongoing review of best practices. Studies include: spiritual transformative power; personal testimony; meaning and purpose; face of God; Tahor and Tamei; Tachrichim; History; manuals, tefillah, training, impediments; safety; and complications.


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