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The medical world and the laws associated with it are changing rapidly, and the focus is on the quality of life. More and more frequently, patients and their families are encouraged to forgo “excessive” or “unnecessary” treatments and therapies so as to maintain a greater quality of life. New York State laws exist that require doctors to inform patients of their right to refuse rigorous courses of action in order to sustain life. They can choose palliative care, which will manage their pain and keep them comfortable as they naturally succumb to the progressive illness. Who will make these decisions for you if you are incapable of doing so? Will those around you know and agree with what your wishes might be?

There is also a serious halachic component to these decisions that cannot be ignored. These are often questions with life and death implications. Who will guide the decisions as to the appropriate religious requirements at this sad, difficult and stressful time? You need to designate an agent – a health-care proxy and a rabbi who will guide that agent. Agudath Israel of America and the RCA have made such forms available. The National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) has also created the Emergency Medical Instructions (EMES) card, which attaches to your license and will be found in times of emergency. This card is also valuable as an objection to autopsy in cases of sudden death. It is also a valuable tool to help reduce the incidence of Jewish people who are cremated. You must be well-informed about this real and unavoidable subject.

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On Sunday, March 18, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills will host a forum on how to make a living will the halachic way. Using a halachic medical directive ensures that all medical and post death decisions will be made in accordance with your wishes and halacha. Staff from the National Association of Chevra Kadisha will be available to answer questions and help fill out forms and the EMES card to keep in your wallet. Rabbi Dovid Weinberger, rav of Congregation Shaaray Tefila of Lawrence; Dr. Edward Burns, executive dean at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Mordechai Serle, esq., associate at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, director of the Chevra Kadisha Vaad Harabonim of Queens will all speak at this important program.

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