Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Calev Ben-David Doesn't Get It

Calev Ben-David demonstrates that he doesn't understand the true Jewish postition regarding Terri Schavio in his article Snap Judgment: The Jewish right to die:
This is not to argue for any kind of "Jewish" position regarding the Schiavo affair, even if she herself were Jewish. Quite the opposite: Since the whole question of what Terri Schiavo's own desires were (or are) regarding her current condition is still in dispute, it is impossible to draw any general conclusions from this tangled and heart-wrenching case.

Despite that, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the national Orthodox Jewish organization Agudath Israel, publicly called on Michael Schiavo last week to "recognize that what a court may consider legal can still constitute a grave violation of a higher law," and asked him to "please allow your wife to continue to live... None of us can claim to know what constitutes a meaningful existence, and all of us have a responsibility to preserve even severely compromised human life."

Whatever Shafran or Agudath Israel's motivation for making such a statement, it's entirely inappropriate in this context. Of course individual Jews, be it in America, Israel or elsewhere, are perfectly free to decide for themselves, without reference to Jewish or any other religious sources, their own position regarding passive euthanasia. But partisan voices on either side of this debate have no right to distort traditional Jewish teachings on this subject in order to argue their side of this matter.

Now that we've read Ben-David's uninformed journalist's rant, let's read a true scholarly opinion from Dr. Daniel Eisenberg:

Let us take the example of Terri Schiavo. She is not brain dead nor is she terminally ill. She is brain damaged and remains in what appears to be a persistent vegetative state. All of her bodily functions are essentially normal, but she lacks the ability to "meaningfully" interact with the outside world (although her parents claim that she does minimally respond to their presence and to outside stimuli).

Her impairment is cognitive and Judaism does not recognize any less of a right to treatment for one cognitively impaired than one mentally astute.

It is a denial of the Jewish ideal of the fundamental value of life that drives the forces that wish to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. While Judaism does recognize quality of life in certain circumstances (such as the incurable terminally ill patient in intractable pain mentioned above), the Torah does not sanction euthanasia in any situation. To remove the feeding tube from a patient whose only impairment is cognitive is simply murder.

We must ask ourselves when we view images of cognitively impaired patients such as Terri Schiavo whether the pain that we feel is Terri's or whether it is our own. While we may suffer watching movies of the severely brain damaged, it is our own thoughts of the horror of a life without cognition that drives us to project that pain onto the victim who may not be suffering at all.

Calev Ben-David should take his own advice with regards to "distorting traditional Jewish teachings on this subject."

Update: Yitzchok Adlerstein at Cross-Currents weighs in on "Rabbi" Calev's remarks:
(Agudah called it correctly, and issued a public appeal to Michael Schaivo to spare his wife’s life. For this, they have been accused of distorting “traditional Jewish teaching” by the world’s foremost authority on Jewish Law – the Jerusalem Post.)

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