Baltimore, MD - Mar. 11, 2019 - We are writing with deep dismay over the passage in the Maryland House of Delegates of HB 399, legalizing physician assisted suicide.
We live in a constantly changing world, and as such we need to nimbly adapt to new circumstances. Yet, our anchors – individually and collectively – are the timeless and eternal values that have served as the foundation of our society. It is thus deeply disconcerting and upsetting to see these values challenged and changed by the latest and best-funded movements for social change.
As Jews and Americans, we live with a profound value for human life. Our tradition teaches us to put aside virtually any other value when a human life – of any quality or potential duration – may be at stake. And while under certain circumstances we may choose not to act aggressively to prolong a life of suffering, we have always considered the active termination of life to be absolutely off limits. Life is sacred and people must not take it into their hands – whatever the motivation – to end a life. For generations, men and women of almost all faith traditions have stood over the fresh graves of loved ones echoing the declaration of Job, “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; may the Name of the Lord be blessed.” It is left for the Lord to reclaim the gift of life. We dare not usurp that role.
Compassion for the dying is of course a fundamental obligation. Yet we have always duly fulfilled that responsibility by a steadfast commitment to be physically and emotionally present for our loved ones as death approaches, and to do everything possible to provide comfort and ameliorate physical pain through appropriately administered medications. We are grateful and supportive of the developments in the field of palliative care, and are in awe of the outstanding professionals who have made it their life’s work to provide emotional and physical comfort to the dying. But we are horrified by the corruption of the healing professions that will come as a result of licensing doctors to aid in the termination of life.
We are additionally fearful of the obvious dangers of the slippery slope that this law will create. We must anticipate that putting suicide on the table as an option to escape pain for the terminally ill will have an effect on the growing suicide rates amongst youth who feel they need an escape from what they see as interminable pain. Additionally, as logic and experience dictate, assisted suicide and euthanasia are closely linked, and the risk of abuse of this "right" is neither speculative nor distant. It is to be expected that the “right to die” will soon and often be experienced as the “obligation to die”, as the terminal patient feels guilty burdening others with his or her ongoing care. As a society, our laws should be sending the opposite message to loved ones struggling with pain and terminal illness; that we value every moment with them and that caring for them is an opportunity we cherish, not a burden we wish to be relieved of.
The infinite value of human life, and the irreversible nature of ending it, has led our state to abolish the death penalty, as we truly could find no adequate system of checks and balances - even within our highest courts - to ensure its proper and careful implementation. Yet today we are preparing to grant license to physicians and ill patients to decide and execute the death sentence routinely based on necessarily vague projections of longevity. This is an extremely serious change, and radically diminishes the value we as a society assign to human life. We are fearful of the ramifications of this change.
We are profoundly disappointed in those of our elected representatives who have chosen to lead and support this terrible legislation. In doing so, they do not represent us, their constituents.
The Vaad HaRabbanim - Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore
March 11, 2019
[ED. Note: Delegate Dalya Attar is the only delegate from districts 41 and 11 who voted against the bill.]