A scheme is being piloted in Manchester to ensure that observant Jewish patients have the right to stay alive if they become critically ill.
The so-called Halachic Living Will allows patients’ religious beliefs to be taken into account in any medical decisions.
Under the scheme, patients can sign a legal contract to appoint a rabbi or representative who would then make life-saving medical decisions — in line with halachah (Jewish law) — on their behalf if they become mentally incapacitated.
It is hoped this would prevent families having to launch a legal battle to save the life of a loved one when the patient’s intentions are not stated in advance. The idea is being developed by Orthodox advisory agency, the Interlink Foundation. Wording for the will has been drafted by Manchester QC David Berkley and the Manchester Beth Din.
The scheme has already received the support of the Chief Rabbi’s Office, the London Beth Din and strictly Orthodox leaders. It has also been welcomed by Salford health care providers.
However, new laws introduced in 2007 have limited the capacity of such a scheme to help mentally incapacitated patients decide their fate, according to Beverley Tabernacle, Nurse Consultant at Salford Royal Foundation Trust.
She said: “There are challenges to make sure the Jewish document is in line with the Mental Capacity Act which states that patients are not allowed to make advanced decisions that sustain life. However, I think this document is an important step for Jewish patients. It puts a clearer process around involving people in those difficult decisions.”
Interlink’s north west director, Nava Kestenbaum, who is pioneering the project, is concerned that the popularity of the “death with dignity” movement could become dogma in parts of the medical profession.
Mrs Kestenbaum said: “Eventually, the dominant attitude of health providers faced with grim decisions amid pressures on medical resources could be to withhold treatments.
“Halachic decisions are judged sensitively on a case by case basis, and we want to uphold the believing Jew’s right to choose their care in accordance with his or her Jewish beliefs.”