Chayim Aruchim, a division of Agudath Israel of America, has been very active recently in helping patients receive needed medical treatment in cases in which hospitals were opposed to continuing treatment. The organization, dedicated to culturally sensitive end of life counseling and treatment, regularly receives urgent calls from family members of incapacitated patients in need of assistance.
In one case, the hospital believed the patient was “brain dead” and was preparing to conduct a test for brain death and then, if the results were positive, disconnect the patient from the ventilator that was enabling him to breathe. The family called Chayim Aruchim. The organization, through its legal counsel, Mordechai Biser, immediately contacted the hospital’s legal counsel. Rabbi Biser explained that New York State health care regulations, drafted with the assistance of Agudath Israel, require the hospital to reasonably accommodate a patient or family’s objection to brain death as a determination of death. The hospital agreed to hold off on the testing and then agreed to transfer the patient to a long term acute care facility in Lakewood, New Jersey rather than disconnect the patient from life support.
In another case, the health care agent for the patient wanted the patient disconnected from life support, but the actual family of the patient was opposed to “pulling the plug”. Chayim Aruchim immediately put the family in touch with a local attorney, Mordechai Avigdor, who, because the patient was not competent at the time the first health care agent was appointed, was able to get a court injunction preventing the hospital from disconnecting the patient from life support and then a second court order removing the health care agent and substituting a relative of the patient.
In a third case, a woman called saying she was a close friend of an elderly patient who was no longer capable of making health care decisions for herself. The hospital entered a DNR (do not resuscitate) order on the patient’s hospital chart. Rabbi Biser told the woman that under New York law, in the absence of any closer relatives, as a close friend to the patient she had the legal right to make health care decisions for the patient, and he immediately forwarded to her the copy of the law at issue. She took the document to hospital officials, who promptly removed the DNR and restored full care to the patient.
Many people in these sorts of situations are unaware that they have legal rights. Rabbi Biser stated, “we urge those in conflict with either hospital officials or other family members to call Chayim Aruchim when a patient’s life is at stake. In most cases, we can help.”
In addition to legal assistance, Chayim Aruchim also has trained staff capable of providing advice and counseling to families of seriously ill patients. Their advisors will help patients and families clarify the medical facts, formulate their questions for rabbinic guidance, get timely guidance from expert rabbis in this field, and explain that guidance to the family and the hospital officials. Chayim Aruchim’s Care Navigator can also help the family choose the next stage in care, whether it be another hospital, a skilled nursing facility, a long term acute care facility, or a home care plan.
The halachic advisor to Chayim Aruchim is Rabbi Zvi Ausch; the director of the Machon Refuah V’Halacha is Rabbi Ben Zion Leser; the Patient and Family Representative is Rabbi Aron Wajsfeld; the New York State Project Director is Rabbi Berish Fried.
Chayim Aruchim can be reached at its 24-hour hotline, 718-301-9800; or callers can also call Agudath Israel of America directly at 212-797-9000 and ask for extension 335.