Lesson 1 Choosing Life: The Obligation to Seek Treatment This lesson examines Jewish perspectives on pursuing medical care, as well as declining it. Is it ever acceptable, or even preferable, to simply rely on faith, prayer, and one’s own resources? How does Judaism justify medical intervention? And is it an obligation or a choice? May other family members force us to seek treatment that we do not want? This lesson examines the ethics of issues involving patient autonomy within the modern health care system. Lesson 2 Flesh of My Flesh: Organ Transplants in Jewish Law Hundreds of thousands of people find their lives hanging in the balance as they hope for the gift of life in the form of a vital organ such as a heart, lung, or kidney. By receiving an organ, they are literally given a new lease on life. Yet there is a tremendous shortage of available organs. Does Jewish law allow the donation of organs, either from a live donor or one who is recently deceased? Do we have the authority to give a body part away? Might it go further, actively encouraging or even morally compelling one to donate under certain circumstances? This lesson provides a nuanced and compassionate look at the sensitive ethical issues governing organ donation. Lesson 3 Rolling the Dice: Risky and Experimental Treatments Often, people with rare or incurable illnesses consider untested experimental treatment, gambling that they will be cured. May one participate in an experimental treatment with no guarantee of success that also has the danger of shortening life? Can we define the allowable odds? Do our personal preferences and values hold any weight? And does the same hold true for children? Does it matter that participating in this experimental treatment will provide important knowledge that will be helpful in curing others? Lesson 4 New Beginnings: The Ethics of Reproductive Technologies Many couples struggle with infertility. In their efforts to bear a child, they are often cast into the complicated ethical web of the new reproductive technologies, many of which call into question the very definition of a parent. In the age of sperm donation, egg donation, and surrogacy, can a child have more than two parents? How does Judaism look at “designer babies”? Can we pre-select the gender of the child to match parent preferences or to prevent genetic illnesses? How far must one go in the quest for biological children, and what recourse is there for those who are unable to bear children of their own? Lesson 5 With You In Mind: Ethical Treatment of the Mentally Disabled The mentally ill have often been viewed in society as possessed by the devil, or otherwise evil. Jewish law, however, has long recognized this as a disease, and acknowledges both the limitations of responsibility that this state imposes, as well as the essential humanity of the mentally ill. Jewish law recognizes that there may well be islands of ability at the same time that limitations exist. It encourages the maximum participation possible of those with mental illnesses, while outlining the role the community must play in protecting their interests. The lesson also considers the integration of individuals who may suffer from mental retardation, and the value of engaging them actively in Jewish life. Lesson 6 Secret Code: Genetics and the Ethics of Patient Confidentiality A basic presumption of modern medical practice is that patients have a right for their medical history to be kept confidential unless they explicitly waive those rights. What happens, however, when those records contain information that might impact other family members? Do children have the right to know they are carriers of a particular disease, or may the parent keep that information private? This lesson looks at some ways of balancing the harm to the individual whose privacy is invaded against the need to provide family members with vital health information.
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