“The Right to Die with Compassion and Dignity”

On Sunday afternoon, February 17, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of SW Florida invites you to join us for a discussion of “The Right to Die with Compassion and Dignity.” The meeting will begin with coffee ’n chat at 1:30 p.m. in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples, 2205 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples. Our speaker takes the podium promptly at 2:00 p.m.

Making a reservation with Dena Sklaroff at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101 will help us provide adequate arrangements for this event.

Our speaker will be Bill Schoolman, representing the Final Exit Network. Schoolman was a former activist for 10 years with the ACLUFL, past President of the Broward ACLU Chapter and principal public speaker for the chapter in Broward County. His last position with the ACLU was as the Vice President of the Florida ACLU.

With extensive public speaking experience on a broad range of civil rights issues, Schoolman will discuss issues surrounding the right to die. The Final Exit Network wants to change the laws that deny patients the right to decide how their conditions will be treated. He will also discuss the Network’s efforts to change laws that prevent patients from controlling how, when and where they die.

It is nothing short of barbaric to deny someone the right to die a good death, a death with a minimum of pain and suffering. Furthermore, since Humanistic Judaism holds that each person is the owner of his or her life and body, it follows that each person has the right to decide when and how to end that life. Humanistic ethics oppose the cruel and inhuman notion that human beings must be kept breathing as long as possible, regardless of the circumstances and the person’s own fervent wish to be relieved of suffering.

Humanistic Judaism accepts life and death realistically. It promises no eternal salvation, nor, confronted by mortality, does it recommend an attitude of despair. Just as Humanistic Judaism encourages and seeks to secure life with dignity, it encourages and seeks to secure death with dignity.

The nature of all living beings, including human beings, means that their existence is finite. Scientists have discovered no evidence that justifies belief in a life hereafter. Consciousness, thinking and awareness are functions of the brain. At death, the brain deteriorates with the rest of the body, and any kind of awareness is impossible. Without awareness, immortality would be meaningless. The belief in immortality, then, is and always has been a matter of wishful thinking. Actually, our immortality relies upon the memory we leave to those who live after us.

To recognize one’s mortality is not to admit defeat but to acknowledge the necessity of finding in this world and in this life all possible purpose and meaning, rather than to await fulfillment in a hereafter. It is to realize and understand the nature of humankind, which possesses more independence, power, freedom and, hence, dignity than any other known thing in the universe – but not infinite independence, power and freedom.

Humans fall down and are bruised; they are susceptible to viruses and become ill; they may choose to eat too much and get fat, smoke too much and die. Also, they may exercise control over themselves, diet, study and enjoy the pleasures of living. In this sense they are masters of their destiny, but not forever.

Concerns about individual freedom, responsibility, dignity and aid in dying have become controversial issues in the courts, in medical circles and in the media. This topic requires our attention.