Ethical Issues in Palliative Care| Volume 60, ISSUE 6, P1260-1265, December 2020

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Can Orthodox Jewish Patients Undergo Palliative Extubation? A Challenging Ethics Case Study


      According to Jewish law/ethics, continuous life-sustaining therapy may not be withdrawn after its introduction, unless the patient has improved and no longer has a medical indication for the treatment. We report the case of an 88-year-old Orthodox Jewish patient, on invasive mechanical ventilation, with severe anoxic brain injury after multiple cardiac arrests. Although the patient's son informed the palliative care team that his father did not want to be in pain or to linger in a vegetative state when terminally ill, the mechanical ventilation was keeping him alive with a poor neurological prognosis. Additionally, the patient had previously stated his wish to observe Orthodox Jewish principles regarding end-of-life care. After extensive discussion, the family Rabbi clarified that it would be acceptable to withdraw mechanical ventilation if there were a “reasonable expectation” he would breathe on his own for a “reasonable amount of time.” Thus, if the patient's death were to occur, it would not be an immediate consequence the normal ventilator weaning process. Following intermediation by the hospital Rabbi, the definition of what would be a “reasonable expectation” and “reasonable amount of time” was established by the family Rabbi as “over 50%” and “on the order of hours,” respectively. Following pulmonary consultation, the patient underwent palliative extubation and, 12 hours after the procedure, died comfortably surrounded by the family. In conclusion, the collaborative and interdisciplinary work among the family Rabbi, hospital Rabbi, and the various medical teams allowed the development of a plan that met all of the patient's personal and religious wishes and beliefs.

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