Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Ethn Health. 2011 Jun;16(3):259-78. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2011.573538.

'We are (not) the master of our body': elderly Jewish women's attitudes towards euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Author information

  • 1Faculty of Theology, Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Religion and World View, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.



In Belgium, dominant ideological traditions--Christianity and non-religious humanism--have the floor in debates on euthanasia and hardly any attention is paid to the practices and attitudes of ethnic and religious minorities, for instance, Jews. This article aims to meet this lacuna.


Qualitative empirical research was performed in the Orthodox Jewish community of Antwerp (Belgium) with a purposive sample of elderly Jewish (non-)Hasidic and secularised Orthodox women. In-depth interviews were conducted to elicit their attitudes towards (non-)voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.


The research reveals diverse views among women in the community on intentionally terminating a patient's life. Absolute rejection of every act which deliberately terminates life is found among the overwhelming majority of (religiously observant) Orthodox (Hasidic and non-Hasidic) women, as they have an unconditional faith and trust in God's sovereign power over the domain of life and death. On the other hand, the views of secularised Orthodox women--mostly irreligious women, who do not consider themselves Orthodox, thus not following Jewish law, yet say they belong to the Orthodox Jewish community--show an acceptance of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide but non-voluntary euthanasia is approached more negatively. As they perceive illness and death as merely profane facts, they stress a patient's absolute right towards self-determination, in particular with regard to one's end of life. Among non-Hasidic Orthodox respondents, more openness is found for cultivating a personal opinion which deviates from Jewish law and for the right of self-determination with regard to questions concerning life and death. In this study, these participants occupy an intermediate position.


Our study reveals an interplay between ethical attitudes on euthanasia and religious convictions. The image one has of a transcendental reality, or of God, has a stronger effect on one's (dis)approval of euthanasia than being (ir)religious.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Taylor & Francis
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk