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As a prominent Flatbush rov, Rabbi Yehuda Metzger* was often asked to lend his name to many a kol korey or other proclamation, but putting his signature on items being circulated never sat well with this respected talmid chochom. Ironically, the one paper that Rabbi Metzger did sign was something he believed to be of vital importance, ultimately proving to be a tremendous gift to his family ten years later during the coronavirus outbreak.
That document was a halachic medical directive.
It was in 2010 that Rabbi Metzger handed his daughter and son in law, Reb Eli Silver, a sheaf of papers that included information about a plot he had purchased in Eretz Yisroel and a halachic medical directive, presented to him by Chayim Aruchim’s president, Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz. Then in his mid-seventies, Rabbi Metzger believed strongly in the importance of signing the legally binding document deputizing a particular person or persons to make health care decisions for him should he ever become incapacitated and also identifying which rabbonim should be contacted if halachic questions arose. Rabbi Metzger told Reb Eli and his wife that he had named them both as his official agents in health care matters and the Silvers filed the papers away in the hope that it would be many, many years before they were needed.
Rabbi Metzger was rushed to the hospital shortly before Pesach at the height of the pandemic and the Silvers made sure to provide the medical staff with a copy of the halachic living will that they had kept safe for a decade. Throughout Rabbi Metzger’s 12-week battle with COVID, hospital personnel repeatedly pressured his family to forego medical treatment to extend his life, insisting that his death was inevitable and that any intervention would be futile. Time and time again, the Silvers were able to respond with complete certainty and legal authority that Rabbi Metzger believed that every moment of life is precious and that his halachic medical directive signed years earlier made clear his wish that all decisions regarding his care be made in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law.
“They kept saying to us ‘are you sure you want this?’” recalled Reb Eli. “One time he suffered a cardiac arrest and even with the health care proxy in place they asked us ‘would you like us to resuscitate him?’ When we answered yes, they replied, ‘we just made sure you hadn’t changed your mind,’ and it was obvious to us that had he been a patient without a health care proxy they would have done nothing and just let him die.”
Rabbi Metzger was moved around several times during his lengthy hospitalization and in every instance, his halachic medical directive somehow disappeared. Each time, the Silvers dutifully faxed the paperwork back into the hospital, knowing that doing so was crucial to their father’s care.
“We knew that because we had the health care proxy they would think twice before taking steps they shouldn’t have,” said Reb Eli. “Still, there were times that they tried cutting us out of the loop and refused to talk to us and it was clear that the hospital had found every excuse to lose the proxy whenever they could.”
The Silvers credited Chayim Aruchim, a project of Agudath Israel of America, for holding their hand throughout their ordeal and expressed their gratitude to discharge consultant Mrs. Leah Horowitz for her work ensuring that patients who are released from the hospital are placed in facilities best suited to their needs.
“We felt that Chayim Aruchim was there for us every step of the way,” said Mrs. Chani Silver. “With all visitations barred during COVID, once a patient was in the hospital there was no one else there to help you and Chayim Aruchim was there for us providing chizuk, as well as technical, legal, emotional and practical support the entire time.”
It was clear to the Silver’s that having their father’s halachic medical directive made a world of difference in his care.
“Every time the hospital tried to convince us to forego treatment, we were able to say ‘this is what he wanted’ and we had the legal proof to back that statement up,” said Reb Eli.
“This is ammunition against a culture of medicine where they are indoctrinated that if someone doesn’t have a certain quality of life that their life isn’t worth living,” added Mrs. Silver. “We also heard of someone who was on dialysis long before COVID struck and, even then, the hospital wanted to take them off the machine, telling a doctor who protested that there was someone else who needed the machine more than that particular patient.”
Rabbi Metzger’s halachic medical directive also benefited his family in an unexpected way by eliminating any possibility of machlokes between relatives regarding his care.
“We have heard stories of families that have been ripped apart when it came time to make medical decisions for a parent,” observed Reb Eli. “There were no heated discussions about what to do or how to proceed because my shver made it very clear exactly what he wanted and which posek should be consulted on every type of decision. There was no pressure on the family and no worries about whether we had done things the way he would have wanted.”
“Sign a halachic medical directive,” added Reb Eli. “It is the best gift you can ever give your family.”
*All names changed in the interests of privacy