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The Torah teaches us that every moment of life is intrinsically valuable; life itself is never futile.Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a leading halachic authority of the past generation, points out that we have no "yardstick" by which to measure value of life.Reviving the patient may be possible, but cardiac arrest will almost certainly recur within a very short time.This can be contrasted with performing CPR on an otherwise healthy individual who develops an irregular heart rhythm that will result in sudden death.A patient with such an illness or condition is called a "chayay sha'ah," -- one whose life is "timed" or "time-limited." One who is expected to survive beyond a year is considered a "chayay olam" -- one whose life is considered "eternal" in the sense that their life expectancy is presumed indefinite and not limited.Thus, in halacha, persistent vegetative state and Alzheimer's disease are not terminal conditions, per se, despite the fact that they are progressive, irreversible and inevitably result in death.The Terri Schiavo saga in Florida, where a patient in a vegetative state has recently had her feeding tube reinserted by order of the legislature and governor, reminds us of the reality of modern life.An inescapable result of the extraordinary technological progress of the last several decades has been that critically ill patients who would have died early in their illnesses, often in the relative comfort of their homes, are now kept alive much longer in hospitals, often suffering great pain.
They are not "terminal" (until the very end stages of their illnesses) and must be aggressively treated without regard to the apparent "futility" of their lives. All of her bodily functions are essentially normal, but she lacks the ability to "meaningfully" interact with the outside world (although her parents claim that she does minimally respond to their presence and to outside stimuli).
In secular ethics discussions, medical futility encompasses several issues only loosely related to one another.
Futility of treatment is often confused with "futility" of life.
From a Jewish perspective, we must ask whether the physician may withhold, and whether the patient may refuse, futile therapy.
The intrinsic value of life does not necessarily imply that every patient must be treated in every instance.
If resuscitation is successful, the arrhythmia may be treated and the patient may live a long life.