The Right to Die
In a controversial court case that has reverberated in both Jewish and secular communities, an Orthodox Chicago woman opposed her husband regarding the continued treatment of their critically ill son — and won.
Miriam Soloveichik, a lawyer married to Rabbi Moshe Sol-oveichik, son of Rabbi Aron Soloveichik of the famous rabbinic family, went to court to prevent further surgery on her 12-year-old son, Yisroel Yosef, who had been battling terminal cancer for almost two years and was semi-comatose. While doctors at St. Lukes Hospital unanimously agreed that further surgery was “contra-indicated,” Rabbi Soloveichik felt that even if his son was in excruciating pain, halacha (Jewish law) insists that every moment in life is precious and everything must be done to keep him alive.
Ms. Soloveichik disagreed. “I could see my son was filled with excruciating pain,” she explained. “He had lost his ability to talk and could communicate only through blinking his eyes. He would blink out, ‘I want to die’ and ‘death. ‘He asked me often if his sickness was a punishment from God. Of course, I’d tell him no. Then he’d ask if he would go to Gan Eden (paradise) and if there would be pizza there. Later, he was unable to communicate, and all his doctors and I could see was sheer terror in his eyes. One does not have to wait for a child to have sheer terror to have rachmones (pity), to say enough is enough.”
She asked shylas (religious opinions) of her father and brother, New York rabbis Chaim and Moshe Faskowitz, as well as a rabbi in Israel. All concurred that there was no halachic requirement to perform further surgery.
After a five-day trial, the presiding Chicago judge ruled in Ms. Soloveichik’s favor. Yisroel Yosef died a few days later.
Since the court opinion, Ms. Soloveichik and her family have been harassed; she has been called “a transgressor.” She explains, “My sin was not that I didn’t accept halachic opinion — which I’ve always done. Instead, it was the fact that I dared, as a woman, to contest my husband’s spiritual leadership. No woman is supposed to do that in public.” The case has probably dissolved the Soloveichiks’ marriage.
Since her son’s trial, Ms. Soloveichik has received phone calls from other parents seeking advice and has counselled a father who forced hospital staffers to allow his brain-dead son to die naturally. In the wake of her own case, Illinois courts have ruled that a parent does not have to go to court to persuade a hospital to let a patient die. “I don’t feel vindicated because of this new ruling,” Soloveichik says. “I felt vindicated the moment my son died in peace.”