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We must ask ourselves when we view images of cognitively impaired patients such as Terri Schiavo whether the pain that we feel is Terri's or whether it is our own.While we may suffer watching movies of the severely brain damaged, it is our own thoughts of the horror of a life without cognition that drives us to project that pain onto the victim who may not be suffering at all.A patient with such an illness or condition is called a "chayay sha'ah," -- one whose life is "timed" or "time-limited." One who is expected to survive beyond a year is considered a "chayay olam" -- one whose life is considered "eternal" in the sense that their life expectancy is presumed indefinite and not limited.Thus, in halacha, persistent vegetative state and Alzheimer's disease are not terminal conditions, per se, despite the fact that they are progressive, irreversible and inevitably result in death.If resuscitation is successful, the arrhythmia may be treated and the patient may live a long life.It goes without saying that this second patient must be resuscitated because the therapy is helpful and sometimes even curative.
Futility of treatment is often confused with "futility" of life.An example would be a patient with a cancer that has not been shown to be responsive to standard chemotherapy. But clearly, according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, if the patient is in intractable pain and the therapy is not proven to be efficacious, the patient may refuse the physician's offer of a "futile" therapy that prolongs life without a reasonable expectation of cure or relief of pain.