Wednesday, December 7, 2005

JERUSALEM — Machines will perform euthanasia on terminally ill patients in Israel under legislation devised not to offend Jewish law, which forbids people taking human life.

A special timer will be fitted to a patient’s respirator and will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off.

Normally, someone would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on, but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.

Similar timing devices, known as Sabbath clocks, are used in the homes of Orthodox Jews so that light switches and electrical devices can be turned on during the Sabbath without offending religious strictures.

Parliamentarians reached a solution after discussions with a 58-member panel of medical, religious and philosophical experts.

“The point was that it is wrong, under Jewish law, for a person’s life to be taken by a person but, for a machine, it is acceptable,” a parliamentary spokesman said. “A man would not be able to shorten human life, but a machine can.”

The bill, which was approved 22-3 with one abstention at the third and final reading in the Knesset, will become law next year.

Health Minister Danny Naveh described the passing of the law as a historic moment, saying, “This is one of the most important laws passed by the Knesset. It represents major moral value for the terminally ill and their families.”

It is expected that elderly Israelis will begin to leave “living wills” in which they stipulate whether they would allow the new euthanasia procedure to apply to them if they were to end up in hospital, dependent on a respirator and suffering from a terminal disease.

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