Last Shabbat we read a parasha of death. Both Sarah and Abraham pass from the world in their ripe old ages, 127 and 175 respectively. And despite all the havoc Abraham wreaked upon his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, at last they join together to bury him lovingly in the cave at Machpela.
All this generational passing makes me think about the passing of generations in our own times. In my years in our shul, I can recall a number of agonizing end-of-life discussions with families, as they make medical decisions for their terminally ill loved ones. And I recall with satisfaction a Shabbat of study we had on this theme some years ago, with excellent presentations by our members, Nancy Dubler, Navah Harlow and Len Sharzer.
In recent years, it has become increasing clear how important it is for families to have advance care planning discussions, in advance of the crisis moments. While you’re healthy and capable of deciding, please gather with your loved ones – children, spouses, friends – to review and process your desires about how much medication to give, when to withhold it, and how to enable organ donation when possible.
Discussing advance care planning allows you to express your wishes for future healthcare needs in a way that encompasses your personal goals, values, and preferences for care. It is a gift to your future self, as well as to your family members and friends who may be left to make decisions on your behalf in the event you’re not able to speak for yourself.
There are numerous resources available to us in New York for this process, and I commend the Jewish organizations leading the drive to bring this topic to the public consciousness. The JCC, JTS, Dorot and others are helping to facilitate important discussions of “What Matters.”
Nationwide, only about a quarter of people have written advance directives on their end-of-life preferences. But the city of La Crosse, WI has had a remarkable result where more than 95 percent record their preferences, to the great satisfaction of many. We NYC Jews can learn from the good people of La Crosse.
To have a facilitated discussion with a social worker about advance care planning, please call Yael Kornfeld, Ansche Chesed’s DOROT social worker at 212-769-2850 or e-mail her at Ykornfeld@dorotusa.org. I myself have not been trained in the La Crosse-inspired “Respecting Choices” curriculum. But I would always be happy to meet with you and think these issues through with you. Never hesitate to call on me.
To bring Jewish and Halakhic values to bear as you consider these matters, let me call to your attention the resources assembled by the What Matters team, a number of thoughtful responsa of the Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards from the early 1990s by my colleagues Elliot Dorff, Avi Reisner and others, including about the virtue of organ donation, a series of fine YouTubes by rabbis and teachers across the Jewish spectrum, including our members David Kraemer and Len Sharzer, and an illuminatingpodcast, featuring Mychal Springer, friend to many in the community.
Please have these conversations among your families, and know that I am happy to have them with you.