"Love Your Neighbor Like Yourself": A Jewish Ethical Approach to the Use of Pain Medication With Potentially Dangerous Side Effects
Zivotofsky, Ari Z.
Journal of Palliative Medicine 2010 January; 13(1): 67-71
Palliation of pain is universally regarded as a cardinal aspect of end-of-life care. In the early days of the palliative care and hospice movement there was concern that aggressive pain control with opioids could potentially hasten the death of the patient primarily through respiratory depression. For many ethicists and theologians who were opposed to active euthanasia, this raised the difficult question of whether it is permissible to use these potentially harmful medications. Traditional Jewish decisors also addressed this question and their writings can shed light on their attitudes toward terminal care. The purpose of this article is to analyze the view of three highly respected authorities on the use of pain medications with potentially significant side effects in terminal patients. The Jewish position demonstrates how an ancient tradition struggles to develop an ethic consistent with modern sensibilities. Religious decisors scour the ancient sources to find precedents and then apply that wisdom to contemporary questions. Jewish medical ethics by its very nature is highly pluralistic because there is no central body that determines policy and a wide spectrum of opinions are usually found. However, regarding pain treatment there appears to be a broad consensus mandating its aggressive use even at the risk of significant side effects as long as the motivation is relief of suffering.
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