Canadian Jewish leaders question, pan legalization of assisted suicide

Jewish leaders in Canada reacted with caution and disappointment to a decision by the country’s Supreme Court legalizing assisted suicide.
February 12, 2015

Jewish leaders in Canada reacted with caution and disappointment to a decision by the country’s Supreme Court legalizing assisted suicide.

Canada’s high court struck down the country’s laws against physician-assisted suicide, meaning it will no longer be illegal for a doctor to help someone who is ill and suffering to end his life. But the ban struck down last week won’t be lifted for another year and assisted suicide will have conditions attached.

The Toronto Board of Rabbis, the country’s largest rabbinic group, has scheduled “a study day” for later this month to explore differing perspectives on the issue, board president Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl said this week, and later will issue a statement.

But in an email to JTA, Frydman-Kohl, of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation, the largest in Canada, said he was concerned the ruling “will blur the distinctive protection that we give to human life and diminish the desire to care with dedication and devotion for the weakest and most vulnerable of our society.”

Frydman-Kohl called for more support and comfort “to those who are dying, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of decision-making ability or fear of pain and suffering, will feel a need to actively end life.”

The rabbi called on officials to view the judgment “in narrow terms and allow for freedom of conscience for health care workers who do not accept assisted dying as a medical response to pain and suffering.”

Frydman-Kohl also called for adequate funding for palliative and hospice care, “and excellent social support for the weak, the ill, the elderly, the disabled and those who are socially isolated.”

Toronto’s Vaad Harabanim, which represents Orthodox rabbis in the city, said it was “disappointed and distressed” by the court’s decision.

“For over three millennia, Judaism has taught the infinite value and sanctity of all human life and that we must seek to preserve it, while at the same time taking all responsible measures to comfort the ill,” the Vaad said in a statement Thursday. “To deliberately shorten a life by even one second is an act of murder that is interfering with G-d’s will.”

The court’s decision “reflects a dangerous trend away from the recognition of life’s inherent sanctity and presents a stark challenge to our nation’s morals,” the statement said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA, in a statement this week called the issue “complex” and said it will work to inform the community of “the implications of the decision and the ensuing legislation so they have greater understanding of an issue that touches many families.”

CIJA said it was “committed to ensuring the legislation gives Canadians full freedom to make decisions according to their unique personal circumstances, their conscience, and their religious beliefs.”

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