Needless to say, Judaism views the process of dying with great sobriety, and believes in the fundamental right of the terminally ill to die with dignity.
What then does Jewish tradition allow us to do for the dying? There are two permissible ways for Jews to express their compassion for those suffering at the edge of death. The first is by measures aimed at the relief of pain. Pain in itself is considered a “disease”, and its relief is a genuine medical objective and even a religious obligation – even if it reduces longevity.
The second is by cessation of unnecessary medical treatment for the terminally ill. To prolong a patient’s agony beyond all hope of a cure is no longer considered “pikuach nefesh” or healing, and it fulfils no commandment known in Jewish law. If anything, this is considered to be removing the terminal patients’ right to die with dignity.
Suicide has traditionally been discouraged and considered to be ‘forbidden’. Yet, even most traditional sources recognise suicide as an ultimate act of despair and therefore the act of someone who is psychologically ill. Most sources agree that the implied illness demands compassion and therefore there is no issue whatsoever in burying a person who has committed suicide in the Jewish cemetery with all the normative rites and rituals – and mourning them in the normal fashion.