Letters, the Week of Feb. 2, 2017

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State Senator’s Op-Ed Off the Mark

The debate over physician-assisted death is complex and fraught (“Opposing ‘Death With Dignity’ on Jewish Grounds Is Misguided,” Jan. 19). Reasonable and humane people can disagree. State Sen. Daylin Leach, who is one of the smartest and most devoted members of the Pennsylvania legislature, obviously has strong views on that debate. But he did his cause and the cause of reasoned and respectful conversation little good by his recent letter attacking the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox group, for its opposition to “death with dignity” bills such as the one he is supporting in Pennsylvania.

Leach lambastes the RCA for even issuing its statement. He writes that the RCA’s “core objection appears to be religious, but we don’t make laws to reflect the teachings of any one religion.” But matters of life and death will inevitably implicate religious views. And nothing in our Constitution or political morality forbids religious believers and religious organizations from making moral arguments in the public square, even moral arguments grounded in religious views. Just ask the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or the rabbis and Jewish leaders and thinkers who brought their religious vision to bear in marching with them in the epic battle for civil rights.

Leach also criticizes the RCA for referring to physician-assisted death as “suicide.” But suicide, according to every standard definition, is simply the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life. That death might be imminent anyway does not change that. Whether the terminally ill should have the legal right to get physicians to help them commit suicide is a profound question. But Leach’s side cannot win the debate by simply declaring the word “suicide” off limits.

Finally, Leach’s arguments against the RCA seem particularly odd in the light of his decision to refer to physician-assisted death as “death with dignity.” The notion of dignity is deeply loaded and its precise meaning has long been controversial. Some philosophers argue that the idea of human dignity is even inevitably religious. Yet the very title of Leach’s bill suggests that its point is not simply to guarantee the terminally ill “some choices regarding how they die.” A different, more neutral, title would have conveyed that. Rather, the title actively promotes the view that some deaths are more dignified — better — than others. This is a raw value judgment, and Leach should certainly acknowledge that opponents of his bill, including the RCA, have every right to argue that the dignity of self-inflicted deaths is more illusory than real.

Perry Dane | Professor, Rutgers Law School

Times Call Only for Condemnation

I must voice my opposition to the opinions expressed by the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent (“Action and Inaction,” Jan. 26). To laud President Trump as a decisive leader displaying fortitude rather than condemn him for his authoritarian, misogynistic, xenophobic and unconstitutional rulings is a grave misstep.

Additionally, to support a U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem without also supporting a U.S. Embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem does nothing to support peace, freedom, democracy and justice in the Middle East.

Mr. Runyan, be careful you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of history!

Pearl Raz | Elkins Park

Short, but Sweet

Re: “Busting the Myth of Bar Mitzvah Bling” (Jan. 26), do you know who else can become a child of the commandment? Girls! 

Dara Lovitz | Bala Cynwyd

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