A patient who enters the hospital does so with the assumption that their doctors will be looking out for their best interests and will do their utmost to provide them with appropriate medical care to ensure the best possible outcome. Yet Yosef Cohen, a critically ill patient in the medical intensive care unit of a New York City hospital, found himself bombarded with insistent requests by hospital staff who wanted permission to let him to die.
Mr. Cohen, a practicing Orthodox Jew, was admitted to the hospital with a life threatening infection that originated in his legs. In an effort to save his life and halt the progression of the potentially deadly infection, Mr. Cohen agreed to a double leg amputation, a decision reached after a consultation with Horav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita. Mr. Cohen, his wife and his designated health care agent, his son Avrohom, all refused repeated requests by hospital staff who wanted to put DNI and DNR orders in his chart, which would have authorized the hospital to refrain from taking life-saving measures in an emergency situation. Despite making their preference as Orthodox Jews abundantly clear, hospital staff continued to pressure the family after the surgery, saying that they would allow Mr. Cohen only one resuscitation attempt should an emergency situation arise and that no further life saving measures would be taken should any additional emergencies occur.
The decision to withhold treatment to Mr. Cohen in case of an emergency seemed arbitrary, dictatorial and harsh. Clearly Mr. Cohen had already expressed his desire to live, both in his words and in his actions, agreeing to give up both of his legs in an effort to save his life. The idea that doctors, whose sworn Hippocratic oath obligates them to “do no harm,” would refuse to take life saving measures for a patient who clearly expressed a strong desire to undergo pain and hardships in order to live, is not only unthinkable but also immoral, unethical and illegal. Shocked and disturbed that the hospital completely ignored the patient’s moral and religious beliefs, the Cohens reached out to Chayim Aruchim for help.
Rabbi Mordechai Biser, general counsel for Agudath Israel of America and Chayim Aruchim’s legal advisor, contacted both attorney Mark Kurzmann on behalf of the Cohen family and the hospital’s legal department. Mr. Kurzmann immediately prepared a very pointed and detailed letter expressing the patient’s clear preference for choosing life, faxing it to the hospital’s lawyer and Medical Intensive Care Unit at midnight. Early the next morning, the hospital agreed to reverse its decision. All medical staff involved in Mr. Cohen’s case were informed that his wishes were to accommodated and that there would be no limits on the number of potential resuscitation attempts made. Mr. Cohen and his family have reported a noticeable change in both the attitude and demeanor of the both the hospital staff and Mr. Cohen’s physicians, thanks to the intervention of Chayim Aruchim.