'Death by Prescription' Bill Gets Ministers' Backing

The bill, a copy of a similar law that was passed in the U.S. state of Oregon, would allow terminal patients to be prescribed an overdose of a lethal drug.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A trauma center at an Israeli hospital.
A trauma center at an Israeli hospital.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation yesterday came out in support of the “death by prescription” draft legislation, which would allow a “terminal” patient to receive an overdose of a lethal drug, without the doctor being criminally responsible for administering it.
The committee’s decision determines governing coalition’s stance on legislation, and so usually its fate. The Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction announced it would appeal the decision.
“This is a problem society must deal with, and the need for it is growing as life expectancy increases and medical technology improves,” said MK Ofer Shelah, chairman of the Yesh Atid faction and the initiator of the law. “The Death with Dignity Act, as the law is called in the three U.S. states where it is already implemented, grants the patient a degree of control over his life even during his final days, which helps him to deal with his suffering. It also alleviates the legal dilemma of many doctors, and has a positive effect on the families and on their lives on the day after departing from their loved one. This is a progressive law that will place Israel in the first rank of enlightened countries.”
In the introduction to the legislation, Shelah wrote that it is designed to prevent tragic cases in which a healthy person helps an ailing partner die and afterwards commits suicide so as not to be accused of murder. The law today does not prohibit suicide, but providing assistance — even for a family member — is a criminal offense.
The religious, and particularly the Haredi, parties lashed out against the committee's decision. “The time has come for the prime minister to raise the stop sign for the children of the Yesh Atid day camp and the counselors,” said MK Eli Yishai (Shas). “The death law sponsored by the Yesh Atid faction is part of a web of laws attempting to destroy the identity of Israel as the Jewish state. Every Sunday and in response to the polls in the weekend newspapers, Israeli citizens witness more populist proposed laws from their school of thought."
The MKs of United Torah Judaism also spoke out harshly against the proposed legislation.
MKs from Habayit Hayehudi kept a low profile, deciding not to turn the dispute into a coalition crisis. The party plans to appeal the Ministerial Committee’s decision to support the bill, which for now will freeze its progress — and may even bury it.
An official from Habayit Hayehudi said if necessary, the party will use its veto over issues of religion and state that is part of the coalition agreement. A senior party official said Habayit Hayehudi preferred not to discuss the law in public. “There is no reason for us to make headlines on the matter, in any case we can and intend to bury this law, he said.
The “death by prescription” bill is a copy of a similar law that was passed in the state of Oregon.
The Death With Dignity Act was approved in Oregon in two referendums in 1994 and 1997, came into effect in 1998 and since then has withstood legal appeals by conservative Republicans in Washington. The law permits physician-assisted suicide under strict and well-defined conditions. A similar law passed in Washington State in 2008, and in Vermont in 2013.
Currently, Israeli law allows doctors not to extend a terminal patient’s life by artificial means if the patient is not far from death and makes a request in a lucid state. But the law does not apply to suffering patients who are not being kept alive artificially.

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