The decision this weekend by the director of the Hematology Institute at Rehovot's Kaplan Hospital to euthanize his 34-year-old daughter Keren, who suffered from an untreatable form of cancer, and to commit suicide shortly thereafter, makes it clear once again that the country must regulate assisted suicide in a way that respects patients' right to decide they want to end their lives.
It's difficult to accept the fact that if Dr. Mordechai Shtalrid had not killed himself, he would likely have faced criminal charges. The basic human right to retain a measure of control over one's own life, including its final stage, should take precedence over arguments - whether based on religious or other principles - that seek to remove that right.
The Dying Patient Act of 2005 does not allow physicians to actively assist patients in dying or to stop the use of life-saving measures already in place, but gives them the right to refrain from instigating life-saving measures on terminally ill patients diagnosed as having up to six months left to live, if the patients have expressly stated they do not want to continue living.
When it was passed, the law was an important step for terminally ill patients, but it has been implemented only partially. Not only do the restrictions stipulated in the law leave many patients without hope, but the Health Ministry has so far approved only about half of the estimated 4,000 requests from Israelis seeking the assistance of the law if they become terminally ill and want to die.
The Health Ministry must significantly expand its hospice care system. The ministry decided three years ago to build palliative care centers in every hospital, but the project has barely moved forward since then, primarily because of budget constraints.
The Dying Patient Act must be expanded as well. That doesn't mean assisted suicide will be universally permitted; continued medical oversight is necessary.
Former MK Haim Oron (Meretz ) previously sponsored a bill aimed at allowing terminally ill patients to get prescriptions for drugs they would use to end their lives, but the bill did not pass, due at least in part to the opposition of the Health Ministry.
High-profile euthanasia cases like that of the Shtalrids and of Israeli radio broadcaster Adi Talmor, who went to an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland last year after he was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer at age 58, make it clearer than ever that Israel must find a solution to the distress of terminally ill patients who want to choose when to end their lives.
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