Court: Terminally Ill Patients Can Refuse Life-support Systems

In a precedent-setting ruling, a Tel Aviv court ruled this week that terminally ill patients could not be connected to artificial life-support systems against their will.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Moshe Telegam’s ruling came in response to petitions from two terminally-ill patients: a 47-year-old former combat pilot from the center of the country and a 70-year-old man from northern Israel.

Both men have a degenerative disease that attacks the nervous system and affects motor functioning.

They both asked that their lives – and in their view, their suffering – not be prolonged through artificial support systems and medication.

The position of the petitioners was supported by Dr. Avinoam Reches, of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, who submitted a medical opinion with the former pilot’s petition.

“In my opinion, the desire of the patient must be honored, as well as his right to full autonomy over his body,” Reches wrote. “In my opinion, the use of artificial means would only prolong his suffering.”

The state representative and the legal counsel for the Kupat Cholim Klalit, Israel’s largest health fund, did not oppose the petitioners’ request not to be connected to life support systems.

But they said the ultimate decision should be made by a special panel of doctors that includes the director of the hospital, the department director and another senior doctor.

Telegram ruled in favor of the petitioners, noting that because they were of sound mind when they made their appeal, their request should be honored without going before a medical committee.

“This verdict gave legal standing to living wills,” said Yitzhak Hoshen, the attorney who represented the two petitioners.

The ruling will likely open the door to similar cases.

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