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You would have to be hiding under a rock to be unaware of the sad and drawn-out death of a severely brain damaged woman called Terri Schiavo, whose husband and legal guardian made the decision to have her life-sustaining feeding tube removed. Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, however, wanted their 41-year-old daughter to receive the nutrients needed to sustain her life – such as it was. After years of fighting in court, the husband’s request was enforced.
The case received worldwide coverage and there were thousands of people who supported the husband’s decision or his right to make it, while thousands were vehemently against what they considered murder. Each side equally and eloquently cited numerous legal, ethical, moral and religious reasons for why they were for, or against, the removal of her feeding tube, which everyone knew was a death sentence.
From my knowledge of world history, both past and recent, I know that no one enters a battle thinking they are in the wrong, that they are the “bad guys” . Everyone feels justified in doing what they do, and I am not here to judge either side. I can only express my puzzlement as to why what happened was allowed to happen.
I don’t remember when or where I heard the phrase that I am going to quote – perhaps one of you readers would know – but it goes like this: “Wheres there’s life, there’s hope.”
Years ago, premature babies who weighed less than three pounds were often written off by doctors as not being viable. Often, these tiny infants who did survive were extremely brain damaged and physically and mentally incapacitated. Likewise, people with severe spinal cord injuries or advanced cancers were also viewed as non-saveable. Yet thanks to advanced scientific research and cutting edge bio-medical technology, many babies weighing as little as 20 ounces are being saved with few if any handicaps, and those totally paralyzed and on respirators can, after many years, begin to breathe on their own and even feel sensation and movement in their limbs. And there are many cancer patients who had funeral arrangements made for them years ago who are still enjoying life to the fullest. As long as there is life – there is a possibility of a cure. Most doctors in critical care units, when asked, will tell you that they have seen unexplained recoveries. Even those with no religious beliefs admit that they have witnessed miracles.
There is so much medical research going on globally, especially in Israel – using adult stem cell research – that it is very possible that sooner, rather than later, doctors will be able to regenerate damaged brains, spinal cords and diseased organs, such as the liver and the heart. For that reason alone, I am puzzled that invalids like Terri Schiavo, who did not seem to be in any great pain or discomfort, had their lives cut short.
There are circumstances where death is imminent and invasive medical intervention only prolongs dying, not life, with great physical anguish. There are situations where Jewish law allows non-intervention – for example, in the case of an aged person who is suffering immensely from disease, and painkillers are not giving relief, and whose organs have stopped functioning. If his heart stops beating , one is not required to try to shock it back. It is the body shutting down as it dies. However, withholding food and water to cause death is another matter. I don’t consider being fed a medical intervention like electric shock or a respirator for lungs that no longer can take in oxygen. Just as there are non-traditional but effective ways to communicate besides speaking, like the sign language used by the deaf, I believe a feeding tube is just another way of getting food into the body. It is a high tech “spoon”. A baby’s bottle can be viewed as a “feeding tube”.
I therefore am puzzled as to why Terri Schiavo and others like her – invalids who are not in any torturous pain – have been allowed to be starved to death. I have heard of child abuse cases where a child died because it was beaten by a parent or left alone in a crib for several days with no water or food. Either way, the act was viewed as a heinous murder. Why should it be different for an adult, especially one who despite her adult body has the dependence of an infant?
Many people insist that they would not want to continue living if they were in a vegetative state. What is the point to their lives? King David asked G-d that same question regarding the spider. To him it was a useless creature and he wondered why Hashem had created it. Later, a cob-web spun by a spider at the entrance of the cave in which he was hiding from Saul, who was trying to have him killed, saved David’s life and he understood that every life, every creation has its purpose. Perhaps extremely dependent, seemingly non-functioning people like Terri Schiavo exist so that those who come in contact with them learn kindness and compassion – and discover and appreciate their own blessings. Multi-handicapped people very clearly teach us not to get depressed or feel sorry for ourselves because of minor or even major mishaps or disappointments.
Where there is life, there is hope – and as unlikely as it may appear – there is also good reason.
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Yet all are part of one neshamah, planted in rich, verdant soil, determined to grow. May our garden continue to produce a glorious assortment of flowers and trees, each attached firmly to its roots. Our diverse southern vegetation flourishes and grows into different trees, flowers, and fruits, and a rainbow of glorious shades and hues appears. Yet each shoot is rooted in the same soil, stretching its branches and blossoms heavenward in an endless pursuit of growth and connection to the One above.
This past Lag B’Omer, we were blessed to make our first upsherin, where we celebrate our son’s first hair cut. It’s a wonderful milestone that mimics the three years that we refrain from plucking a tree’s first fruits and symbolizes the entry of the child into the world of Torah learning. It’s a clear sign to everyone; this boy is no longer a baby.
Although there are more direct and faster routes to Beer Sheva and Eilat and all the sites and towns in-between, the Basor River is one of the beauties of the Negev that defiantly justifies a diversion.
The importance of death customs has been ingrained in me since birth. When I served as a shomeret for my grandmother, I was instructed not to eat, drink or perform a mitzvah in the same room. In the shock of death, it seemed rather inane to be told it would be considered mocking the dead. My grandmother was gone; she couldn’t do those things because she didn’t exist anymore, a fact that still makes me tear up.
I would have to say that one of the most annoying things about having a newspaper advice column, aside from all these people writing to me and asking for advice, is that they frequently don’t tell me WHY they’re asking.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, who passed away on 28 Tammuz, (July18) this year at age 102, spent all of his days and most of his nights learning Torah. He was the paramount leader of our generation, and inspired tremendous awe and reverence in everyone who knew him. Now, every woman has the stunning opportunity to do something in his memory. A Sefer Torah is being written in his memory and women around the world have the chance to dedicate a letter.
Due to her family situation, it is understandable that she will have more responsibilities than other girls her age, but she would benefit from having some free time and receiving more appreciation for her hard work.
For children, summer means outdoor sports, picnics, and of course, no school! Teachers and students work hard all year long – and everyone deserves a break from education over the summer. However, this two-month break can often have some pretty devastating consequences.
It was only after we celebrated the great news that we were expecting twins that we saw the first sign of problems. First of all, my wife was losing, not gaining weight, even as the babies continued to grow normally. Soon after, routine blood work revealed that my wife was suffering from gestational diabetes.
Rabbi Pinchas Gruman is the new rav of the Minyan at Aish Tamid.
One of the most respected Torah figures in Los Angeles, Rabbi Gruman has been described as “The Los Angeles link in the mesorah of the yeshiva world” by Rabbi Nachum Sauer. As a talmid in Lakewood in the 1950s, Rabbi Gruman received semicha from Rav Aaron Kotler, zt”l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles.
Another tree is down.
I’m driving down Lakewood Avenue, figuring that maybe, just maybe, the tree that blocked the middle of North Lake Drive has been removed, and I can go through. After all, they had a whole day. I’m sure things have been taken care of.
A popular topic of discussion in newspapers, magazines and talk shows revolves around the management of personal finances – or rather the lack of them. In most cases, dealing with overwhelming debt is the topic de jour. Seems many people are drowning in it. Spending more than they have has mired countless consumers into a financial quicksand with maxed out credit cards and collection agencies knocking on the door. Speaking of doors, many face eviction and the loss of their home.
One of the subjects I was taught as a young child in school was Tefillah. Since we spoke only Ivrit during our Limudei Kodesh and secular Hebrew studies – literature, creative writing and Jewish history – we pretty much understood the words we were davening.
Shortly before Pesach, I received a rather agitated call from a long time reader of The Jewish Press who pleaded with me to write a column regarding what she insisted was the unwarranted high cost of Pesach food – in particular shmurah matzah – and how hard it was for young families to pay what she felt were over-inflated prices in order to keep strictly kosher.
The price of deliberate obliviousness is very high – emotionally, physically, socially, and financially.
How is it possible that a person of seemingly normal intelligence (nowhere does it say he is simple) not have the ability to ask a question – to not react and enquire as to the why of the hustle and bustle around him?
It was one of those cold, rain-soaked evenings – the kind that make you look forward to a hot drink, a good book and a soft couch to curl up on. With those happy thoughts in mind, I proceeded to cross to the other side of the street.
The other day I was shopping at a large supermarket and happened to go down the frozen foods aisle, past the endless freezers containing every imaginable flavor, shape and size of ice cream. I rarely buy. Rather I am like a tourist in a museum – gawking at wondrous objects that I know I can’t take home with me.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/where-theres-life-there-is-hope/2005/04/06/
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