Reclaiming the patient's voice and spirit in dying: An insight from Israel

Bioethics 24 (3):134-144 (2010)


In the latter half of the 20th century, Western medicine moved death from the home to the hospital. As a result, the process of dying seems to have lost its spiritual dimension, and become a matter of prolonging material life by means of medical technology. The novel quandaries that arose led in turn to medico-legal regulation. This paper describes the recent regulation of dying in Israel under its Dying Patient Law, 2005. The Law recognizes advance directives in principle, but limits their effect and form through complex medico-legal artifices. It reflects a culture that places high value on both scientific medicine and the sanctity of life as such, and illustrates a medical culture that pitches battle against death. At the same time, the Law constructs the will of the individual in a medico-legal language that is alien to the lay person. The paper suggests an alternative approach to advance care planning that is patient-centred and addresses the psycho-social needs of the individual in terms of her relational autonomy. From this perspective, advance care planning becomes an opportunity to extract the patient from the medical context and allow her to speak about her approaching death with close ones in her own terms of reference. To this end, there is a need for facilitation of an intimate encounter where patients can speak about their concerns with their loved ones. The paper also presents a methodological approach of attentive listening, which can be applied across diverse cultures and circumstances.

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