Medical ethics explained by Jewish law

Posted Wednesday, Nov 3rd, 2010
Naperville Sun

Medical ethics explained by Jewish law

By Wendy Foster

For The Sun

Last Modified: Oct 21, 2010 06:06PM

As medical technology dramatically extends life expectancy, so too the likelihood that, at some point, every adult will be faced with an ethical dilemma about the medical care of a person they love.

Helping to connect the dots between medical ethics and Jewish law is a six-session course called “Medicine and Morals: Your Jewish Guide Through Life’s Tough Decisions.” Developed by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute for 300 locations around the world, the program will be presented locally by Rabbi Mendy Goldstein, director of Chabad Jewish Center-Naperville.

“The course provides different views, different approaches. So when a crisis happens, everyone will have a little bit of this information and know what to ask,” Goldstein said.

The program was developed to help navigate the way between modern-day medical issues and the ancient tradition of Jewish law as written thousands of years ago in the Torah.

The six lessons will include: Choosing Life — The Obligation to Seek Healing; Flesh of My Flesh: Organ Transplants in Jewish Life; Rolling the Dice: Risky and Experimental Treatment; New Beginnings: The Ethics of Reproductive Technologies; With You in Mind: Ethical Treatment of the Mentally Disabled; and Secret Code: Genetics and the Ethics of Patient Confidentiality.

Goldstein said the program will facilitate discussion of these issues from both a religious and a secular point of view.

“We’ll be discussing different scenarios and according to Torah, talking about what would be the appropriate way to treat situations,” Goldstein said. “The medical view and the Torah view sometimes won’t be the same. This opens up the discussion and permits us to view what’s out there.”

Bonnie Reiss of Naperville, who has enrolled in the program, also has attended previous JLI courses.

“They’re so informative, and you really gain so much insight about religion and about the origin of things,” she said. Perhaps most significantly, she added, “You learn that things don’t always conflict. Sometimes you think that science and religions conflict. They really often co-exist.”

Reiss said Goldstein promotes discussion and does not dictate what is right or wrong. He explains how Jewish law has been interpreted as a way for developing understanding.

“You might not agree with everything. The thing is it’s OK to think about it, and for me, it gives me a basis for considering why. There are certain things in Judaism that we’re supposed to take on faith, without knowing why. And that’s OK. But using modern-day education, mind, and experiences, I have the ability to pick and choose.”

She added that while the course obviously comes from a Jewish historical perspective, there is a great deal of potential crossover to Christianity, Islam and other faiths.

Reiss recommends the program “to anyone who has any interest at all in medical ethics. Nurses, doctors ... sometimes parents have to make decisions for their children. Nothing will be beyond anyone’s understanding, and you don’t have to be a Jewish scholar. It will all fall into place.”

Goldstein stressed the program is open to the public and that attendees need not have any prior experience or background in Jewish learning, nor an affiliation with a house of worship. He added that the course is available for continuing medical education and continuing judicial education credits.

At a glance

Medicine and Morals: Your Jewish Guide Through Life’s Tough Decisions will be Wednesday evenings 7:30-8:45 p.m. Oct. 27 through Dec. 1 at the Chabad Jewish Center-Naperville. Visit, email Goldstein at [email protected] or call 630-344-9770.

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