Like the trend among Protestants, Jewish medical ethics have become divided, partly on denominational lines, over euthanasia and end of life treatment since the 1970s. Generally, Jewish thinkers oppose voluntary euthanasia, often vigorously, though there is some backing for voluntary passive euthanasia in limited circumstances. Likewise, within the Conservative Judaism movement, there has been increasing support for passive euthanasia (PAD).
Human life is precious and its preservation takes precedence over every other consideration. This includes the obligation to visit the sick and the permission to violate the Sabbath to help a person afflicted with a dangerous illness. It also includes the obligation of forbearance from doing anything that might hasten the death of a sick person, no matter how serious the illness (Maimonides, Hil. Aveil 4:5).
Hence, euthanasia is forbidden under any circumstances (emphasis added). However, if death is certain, and the patient suffers greatly, it is permissible to desist from postponing death by artificial means.
There is a distinction between euthanasia and the withholding and withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment. Latter is (more) acceptable, whereas the former is strictly forbidden. Although the Jewish tradition asks for the pursuit and maximization of life, the irrefutable wisdom “there is a time to die” of Ecclesiastes 3:2a must be respected: “we are not to stand in the breach to ward off death in its time” (Reisner 2000, p. 252).
The objective of medical care is to act for the patient’s benefit. Consequently the pain of the patient can prevent doctors to decide to continue aggressive treatment when there is no reasonable chance of recovery from a terminal illness.